Thingyan: Past and Present

By Hintharnee 12 April 2017

MOULMEIN, Mon State — Tu Po melodies float in the air. There is no need to look at the calendar. Traditional Thingyan rhythms and a festive atmosphere mean that people are preparing for Thingyan and the New Year. Young people are ready to celebrate, and parents are anxious about the revelry getting out of hand.

In recent years, Thingyan has shifted away from the traditional washing away of sins and doing good deeds toward a party atmosphere. Drugs and alcohol have caused an increased number of injuries and fatalities during Thingyan around the country.

Mon State is said to be one of the liveliest areas of Burma during Thingyan, with people throwing water and celebrating.

But drunk driving and traffic violations caused four car accidents and four motorbike accidents in Mon State during Thingyan last year. Thirteen people were killed and 26 were injured in these accidents, Mon State traffic police officer Kyaw Thu told The Irrawaddy.

Mi Non Tal Pon, a first year university student living in Yay Township said she will celebrate at Yay and Zee Phyu beach as well as at a pagoda festival near Moulmein.

She has put a lot of thought into what color to dye her hair and what to wear for the festivities.

But her mom said she worries about road accidents and has warned her to take extra care during this time.

During Mon State’s Thingyan Festival it is common to see young people rocking punk, rock, or emo hair and make-up styles.  Many ride their motorbikes in groups, showing off stylized group stickers, graffiti and flags. Some show up to the pavilions in cars, speakers blaring, and water barrels ready to go.

Thingyan revelers on Strand Road in Moulmein, the Mon State capital, during the festival in 2015.  ( Photo: Hintharnee / The Irrawaddy)

“We usually hang out in a group—five or six, all about the same age,” said Ko Badin from Moulmein.

And while young people enjoy the different styles, some of the older generation think the fashions disrespect tradition.

There is a tug-of-war between individual freedoms and cultural norms during Thingyan—the younger and older generations brandishing their conflicting views.

“I want to see girls dress elegantly. But today, they wear low-cut and tight-fitting dresses, which tarnishes cultural norms. Parents need to talk their children into preserving our traditions and customs during Thingyan,” said a teacher.

This year, the Mon State government has banned drunk driving, loud motorcycle exhaust, racing, more than two people riding a motorcycle at a time, and motorcycle flags. They also reminded drivers to ride with helmets and display plate numbers.

In recent years, alcohol consumption has led to fighting and sexual assault during the holiday.

“Adults know their limit and can control themselves, but teenagers booze and run wild,” said Ko Wai Yan Tun, a university student from Ywalut Village in Belu Island.

“People paint their faces and act aggressively. They sometimes carry sticks and swords,” said university student Ko Htet Lin Zaw.

In the past, people used to playfully rub soot on each other’s faces during Thingyan. This custom has faded away, either being replaced by Thanaka and talcum powder, but being seen altogether less often and replaced by more raucous partying.

Accounts of sexual assault against women have been reported, and authorities cite a lack of sufficient security for the number of people and the scope of the festival.

Ko Min Min Latt, chairman of Thanphyuzayat Township development committee, said it is hard provide security at this time of year.

“Police have to provide security at various places, and so there are only one or two policemen at a place. If revelers are drunk and cause trouble, it is hard to control them. Maybe they are not only drunk, but also on drugs,” said Ko Min Min Latt.

U Aung Naing, who is in his 70s and living in Thaton, worries for his 13 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.

“Today, liquor can be bought anywhere. I worry as soon as they leave the house and can only breathe a sigh of relief once they come back,” he said.