Not just a shirt

Myanmar is a land of beauty but also one of turmoil. Aside from an over-mighty, unaccountable military, one big reason has been the inability of the majority Burman population and the myriad ethnic minorities to agree on an equitable division of political power and national resources, as well as on access to security and other basic human needs. The flag shown here represents Kawthoolei, a putative independent Karen nation and shows that the man wearing this shirt is himself a Karen, one of Myanmar’s largest ethnic minorities. The bearded figure is that of the late Saw Ba U Gyi, a British-trained lawyer who went on to lead the Karen revolution before being killed in an an encounter with Burmese soldiers in 1950. After his death, those soldiers took his body to the coast and tossed it into the sea in an attempt to forestall his supporters making him a martyr. But that’s exactly how many Karen view Saw Ba U Gyi. At a Karen Revolution Day ceremony inside Karen-controlled territory, I once listened to Ba U Gyi’s daughter speak about the need for educating young Karen students so their people as a whole could go forward.

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