Kachin Manau festival goes on despite boycott

Government-controlled Kachin Manau festival marking 67th anniversary of Kachin state day on Jan 10

The Kachin State government held a traditional Kachin Manau festival this past week on the 67th annual Kachin state day. The Manau which involves ceremonial dance leaders guiding participants in complicated pattern around the traditional Manau polls, went ahead as planned despite the fact that many Kachin made clear their intention to boycott due to the government's handling of the ongoing Kachin conflict.

A number of Kachin civil society organizations indicated they were not participating this year including the Kachin Culture and Literature Committee. Kachin state officials went ahead and the held the festival to “please the central government”, as one disgruntled Myitkyina resident put it. Burma's President Thein Sein made a surprise appearance at the Manau alongside his close ally the Kachin state Chief Minister Lajawn Ngan Seng.

On the morning that the festival began an opening ceremony was marked with a prayer service conducted by Christian religious leaders from the Myanmar Christian Church. The event was attended by over 400 people, according to Lahkri La Awng chairman of the Manau Working Committee.

Speaking to the Kachinnews Lahkri La Awng strongly denied reports that the festival was being held because the state government ordered it to be held. "It's not true I have been serving on the Committee since 2011, so still I am taking responsibility for the festival. We did agree to reduce the [number of ] dance days."

Attendance at the festival this year was far less than previous festivals held during peacetime. Many of those who did attend appear to have been strong armed in attending, including large numbers of civil servants.

"Those who attended today's program were specially invited by the government. Local residents shunned the events, not like past events that were crowded full with people. Now they bring students and make them dance," one Myitkyina resident told Kachinnews. One high school student who participated in the opening ceremony told Kachinnews that her participation had been mandatory.

On November 28th a group of Myitkyina residents sent an open letter to Kachin State Chief Minister Lajawn Ngan Seng calling for him not to go ahead with holding the Manau because of the ongoing conflict and the suffering of Kachin refugees.

Staff at the KIO office in Myitkyina which is located across the street from the Manau ground also did not attend the event as all their staff had gone to Laiza for emergency meetings. Even if they did not have to attend the meeting it is very unlikely they would have attended due to the strong public sentiment against holding the Manau during a time of war.

Nshang San Awng, a member of Peace-talk Creation Group (PCG) said that his group which is made up prominent business leaders and community figures were not going to attend the Manau. "We (PCG members) will not attend the festival as we are already in Laiza for a meeting," he said when reached for comment the day before the festivities began.

This year's festival was expected to cost four hundred million Kyats, Manau organizer Lahkri La Awng said.