The Irrawaddy looks back at memorable deaths this year, from Gen. Aung San’s driver to the short-lived rescue of a baby elephant to giants in the literature community.
Gen. Aung San’s Driver U Khan
U Khan—who drove General Aung San to a small town in southern Shan State for the historic Panglong Agreement that played a major role in Burma’s struggle for independence from British colonial rule 70 years ago—died on June 3.The 101-year-old witnessed the signing ceremony, where the national hero as well as ethnic leaders from Shan, Kachin, and Chin states signed the agreement as part of an effort to speed up Burma’s return to independence. U Khan was the first mayor of Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, assuming office in 1952. Read his profile here.
The Death of Endangered Species
23-Day-Old Elephant Calf
“Mi Kaunt Ya” (“adopted girl”) was born in a small ravine in the Southern Arakan mountain range—a region with a remarkable concentration of wild elephants. Her mother was shooed away by bamboo harvesters who were so distracted by their fear that they did not know that the elephant was just out of labour. The mother and child never reunited.
Veterinarians from the regional Emergency Elephant Response Unit adopted the calf, but she only survived for 23 days, dying of diarrheal disease on July 3 at the Thayet-san elephant camp in Irrawaddy Division.
The public showed great sympathy toward the elephant, and her death reminded the country’s policymakers of the importance of conserving the country’s wild elephant population and their habitats that have shrunk as a result of human encroachment.
Burma is home to 4-5,000 wild Asian elephants, as well as the world’s largest captive elephant population, which has seen a dramatic decline over the past few decades due to illegal poaching and an ongoing human-elephant conflict.
A 30-year-old dolphin was found dead on the banks of the Irrawaddy River in Sagaing Division. She was an Irrawaddy dolphin, an endangered species. She was eight months pregnant and died from electric shock. Ironically, she was killed in a protected area of the river.
She was the third dolphin to be found dead this year, most killed from electro-fishing, an illegal fishing technique that uses an electrical current to kill fish. Her death and the pictures of her unborn baby found after an examination of the carcass brought to the surface once more the issue of electro-fishing and the fact that the government has failed to reinforce banning the technique.
Eighty-six dolphins were in the protection zone in 2012, but only 65 remain his year.
Irrawaddy dolphins are famous for “cooperative fishing” with fishermen through a series of sounds and physical signals that allow the dolphins to herd fish into nets and take any fish that escape as a reward.
Losses Within the Burmese Literary Community
The renowned contemporary Burmese writer Zaw Zaw Aung—credited with introducing modern and post-modern literature to a Burmese audience—and the award-winning novelist Maung Tha Ya—better known by his nickname “Gypsy Writer”—both passed away earlier this year.
Zaw Zaw Aung
Born Zaw Myint in Monywa, Sagaing Division, Zaw Zaw Aung earned his stripes as a scholar at Mandalay University, later pursuing a master’s degree in Burmese literature at Rangoon University.
He was known mostly for introducing modern literary themes to local writing circles, and he became popular among young audiences for his spy novels in the 1980s. He was also an accomplished satirist and literary critic.
Zaw Zaw Aung worked at Rangoon University until 1990, the beginning of a tumultuous decade for the institution, which was later subjected to shutdowns and academic interference by the then-ruling military regime.
He died of natural causes in January. He was 79 years old.
The author of over 60 books and the winner of Burma’s National Literary Award in 1970 for his novel Standing on the Road, Sobbing, Maung Tha Ya was involved in politics as a university student leader in the 1950s and 1960s.
Maung Tha Ya’s career as an author began with the publication of a short story in Rangoon’s Shu Ma Wa magazine. He got his nickname, the “Gypsy Writer,” because of his love for travel and his inability to stay in one place for long.
In the 1980s and 1990s, he worked as an editor of Tha Ya Magazine, which was later banned by Burma’s military government. Unable to continue writing in his homeland, Maung Tha Ya moved to the United States in 1999.
He died at 86 years old in March of this year while living in the United States.
One of the most influential female writers of post-colonial Burma, Kyi Aye was known for introducing existentialism into Burmese literature.Her debut short story “Hto Nya (That Night)” appeared in Taya magazine in 1947 and she rose to fame with a poem titled ”The Ghost” published in the same year. She will also be remembered for such novels as “Mi”, “A Pyin Ka Lu”, “Nwan Hlya Eain Pyan”, “Maung, Ko Ko and Mya Nandar.”
After training as a medical doctor she migrated to the United States in the early 1970s. She since lived and worked in both the United States and the UK as a doctor. Kyi Aye passed away on Dec. 28 in New York at the age of 87.