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Myanmar rebel force target junta with popular satire

A troupe of folk singers and satirists from Myanmar are taking their new show on a jungle tour, hoping to rally anti-coup militants far from their families with barbs against the junta and jokes about home.

Myanmar has been in chaos since last year’s coup sparked renewed fighting with ethnic rebels and spawned dozens of “People’s Defense Forces” fighting the junta across the country.

In eastern Kayin state, the Peacock Generation activist group is trying to boost morale with traditional “thangyat” performances of poetry, comedy and satirical songs against the junta.

A troupe of folk singers and satirists from Myanmar hopes to rally anti-coup militants far from their families with barbs against the junta and jokes about home A troupe of folk singers and satirists from Myanmar hopes to rally anti-coup militants far from their families with barbs against the junta and jokes about home Photo: AFP/STR

Near the Thai border, their makeshift tour bus — painted on one side with a three-finger salute popular with pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and Thailand — rumbles along a dusty track en route to a camp.

Upon arrival, the unimpressed troupe of around 15 mostly young performers rehearse their lyrics.

“We await battle as we hope for rain,” they sing, striding in unison across a makeshift stage, accompanied by drums and cymbals.

“Let’s rain the bullets.”

In eastern Kayin state, the Peacock Generation activist group is trying to boost morale with traditional In eastern Kayin state, the Peacock Generation activist group is trying to boost morale with traditional “thangyat” performances of poetry, comedy and satirical songs against the junta Photo: AFP/STR

Traditionally performed around the New Year, slam-poetry-like “thangyat” has been used in Myanmar for centuries to poke fun at politics and society and to speak out against injustices large and small.

But the military has waged a brutal crackdown on dissidents since the February 2021 coup.

More than 1,700 civilians were killed and over 13,000 people arrested, including dozens of journalists, according to a local monitoring group.

A handful of media outlets have also been forced to shut down.

Thangyat performances are usually held in streets and parks at the Thingyan festival, which welcomes the new year and is usually marked by boisterous water fights in the streets Thangyat performances are usually held in streets and parks at the Thingyan festival, which welcomes the new year and is usually marked by boisterous water fights in the streets Photo: AFP/STR

In the camp, a handful of young fighters in camouflage uniforms sit cross-legged, some clapping along.

“We too want to live like you – peacefully with cigarettes and coffee,” the troupe sings to a row of smartphones in the audience – a message that will reach those at home when the performance is later streamed online.

“We are still young and we miss our mothers who always scold us.”

The few dozen in the camp are among hundreds, analysts estimate, who have moved to border areas held by Myanmar’s mainstream rebel groups to receive weapons training.

Thangyat performances were banned under the previous junta regime, which ruled for almost 50 years, and it was only in 2013 that the ban was lifted Thangyat performances were banned under the previous junta regime, which ruled for almost 50 years, and it was only in 2013 that the ban was lifted Photo: AFP/STR

“Thangyat gives us some freedom of expression in our culture,” said veteran artist Zay Yar Lwin, 32, who fled into the jungle after the coup and re-formed the group Peacock Generation, with which he had performed in previous years.

Thangyat performances are usually held in streets and parks at the Thingyan festival, which welcomes the new year and is usually marked by boisterous water fights in the streets.

But celebrations this year have been muted as many are staying away from the junta-sponsored events.

“Most of what we say is aimed at military dictatorship,” said Zay Yar Lwin.

But they are also teasing the National Unity shadow government, which is dominated by lawmakers from Suu Kyi’s ousted party working to overthrow the coup, for failing to secure the weapons anti-coup militants say that they need them.

“Are we getting guns from the NUG?” shouts the troop commander. “Yes, we are, but only wind cannons,” comes the reply, a jibe that implies the opposition organization is all talk and no action.

Rebel recruit Ma Yu, 30, said she was particularly homesick during Thingyan because under normal circumstances she would celebrate with a festival at home with her parents and family.

“But I felt blessed watching others practice for the performance, so I joined for a new experience,” she said.

Thangyat performances were banned under the previous junta regime, which ruled for almost 50 years, and it was only in 2013 that the ban was lifted.

But even after the government of democracy hero Aung San Suu Kyi was sworn in, there were still strict limits on freedom of expression – especially when it came to the armed forces.

In 2019, Zay Yar Lwin and several other members of the “Peacock Generation” were jailed for a performance that a judge found “disrespectful” of the military.

He lived in the jungle and said it was satisfying to perform thangyat and rebel against the military.

“You can rebel against them with hip-hop, electro-pop or thangyat. People are ready to support you during this time,” said Zay Yar Lwin.

https://www.ibtimes.com/myanmar-rebel-troupe-takes-aim-junta-folk-satire-3476007?utm_source=Public&utm_medium=Feed&utm_campaign=Distribution Myanmar rebel force target junta with popular satire

Brian Ashcraft

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