White Elephant’s Capture Was Omen for Ceasefire Agreement: State Media

By Nobel Zaw 6 April 2015

RANGOON — An opinion article published in state-run media on Sunday has claimed that last month’s capture of a rare white elephant had foreshadowed the in-principle agreement on a nationwide ceasefire accord that was reached last week.

An author named Win Hlaing Kyaw wrote in Burmese-language newspaper The Mirror about the supposed relation between the capture of a seven-year-old albino in Irrawaddy Division in March and the government’s endeavors.

“In Myanmar’s history, the white elephants do not appear all the time. Only if the country is prosperous, when there is a good harvest with enough food, or when there is peace,” the article said.

“Precious white elephants bring the signs of peace, so now the draft NCA agreement is being signed between the government and ethnic armed groups’ leaders,” it said in a line that was highlighted.

White elephants have historically been revered in Burma, Thailand, Laos and other Asian nations, where monarchs would often keep them as a symbol of their successful reign.

Burmese social media users quickly poured scorn on the article, with some viewing the practice of mixing superstition and politics as a throwback to the former military regime’s propaganda. “Long live the big elephants’ peace!” wrote one Facebook user in response to The Mirror’s article.

Hla Maung Shwe, a government advisor at the Myanmar Peace Center, declined to comment when asked about the link between the elephant’s capture and the success of the ceasefire negotiations.

“I don’t want to give any comment related to the white elephant, but I can say that we tried for many years [to reach an agreement] and it is very difficult, but we tried and worked very hard,” he said.

The Mirror’s article harked back to the days of junta-era propaganda when the capture of eight albino elephants between 2000 and 2011 prompted Burma’s superstitious regime on each occasion to declare that the pachyderms were a supernatural sign of the success of its policies.

In November 2011, President Thein Sein’s then-newly installed nominally civilian government proudly announced that two white elephants had been captured. State media soon after claimed the elephants’ appearance had been followed by an “improvement in the country’s foreign relations.”

At the time, Burma had just been awarded the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her first official visit.

Local historian Toe Hla said white elephants are rare and tied to Buddhist myths from India that speak of its significance as an auspicious sign.

He went on to cite his late mentor and well-known historian Than Tun, who in 2005 criticized the government’s practice of celebrating the capture of an albino pachyderm as the animal “endures a lot of suffering because it cannot live freely. So how it can be glorious for the owner?”