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Chapter 3 LEGISLATING REBELLION Ethnology and the Formation of Counter-Insurgency Law If one were to focus exclusively on the series of telegrams, letters, and reports that have been associated with the earliest accounts of the Rebellion, it would appear that notions of Burmese kingship were informing the character of the uprising in Tharrawaddy, reconfirming the template established earlier by administrative gazetteers and Bertram Carey’s 1914 manual on Burmese uprisings. Drawn primarily from the Burma Rebellion General File and specifically within the Public and Judicial records of the India Office (L/PJ/6/2020), the bulk of these sources delineate the official story of the Rebellion, beginning with the initial outbreak in December 1930 and ending with the question of releasing imprisoned rebels in 1935. Although it was clear that officials were somewhat uncertain as to what the causes of the uprising might be in its earliest stages, such disparities were soon offset by documents such as “The Tharrawaddy Outbreak” and “Causes of the Tharrawaddy Rebellion,” which definitively cast the minlaung model as the explanation for the outbreak of violence in December 1930.1 At face value, the files within L/PJ/6/2020 appear to present the official perspective on the Rebellion as being more or less consistent; officials seem to have unanimously attributed the uprising to the periodic rise of a pretender king who captured the imagination and support of a receptive peasantry. What might arguably have been interpreted as a Legislating Rebellion 77 series of spontaneous and diverse expressions of peasant activism was effectively contained by the idea of a single movement, centrally organized around the persuasive influences and manipulative designs of a dynamic leader. R. C. Morris’s “Causes of the Tharrawaddy Rebellion ” fostered coherency among the earliest series of archival materials (January–March 1930) by providing a consistent argument that unified the disparate documents that marked the first representation of the uprisings in the files under the L/PJ/6/2020 designation. Archival coherency reinforced the notion that a set of uniform cultural traits characterized the uprisings, effectively smoothing over the possibility of variation and difference in the record by establishing the minlaung model within official explanations. Political, legislative, and judicial priorities not only informed the organization of these documents within the archive, but reflected the lens through which the rebellion was conceived and constructed in order to meet this demand. Legislative procedure, legal precedent, and the institutional relationships between administrations in New Delhi and Rangoon prescribed the way in which knowledge about the Rebellion would be produced, documented, and archived for the Province of Burma. Attempts to establish coherency in official documentation was as much an expression of administrative consolidation within counter-insurgency policy as it was a reflection of British India’s prescriptive influence over Burma. One might presume then, given the manner in which the Rebellion Files were organized within the Public and Judicial records, that Saya San had been connected to the event surrounding the uprisings from its earliest stages and beyond. A broader examination of the sources suggests that Burma officials were actually presenting several narratives at one time, addressing a range of theories to meet administrative demands related to the acquisition of emergency powers. Focusing on these stories reveals not only the uncertainty (on the part of officials) surrounding the events associated with the Tharrawaddy outbreak, but the way in which counter-insurgency legislation condensed and conflated the series of outbreaks into a single rebellion and a single 78 Chapter 3 narrative.The existence of multiple narratives in the history of the Saya San Rebellion can be detected within official “British” and “Burmese ” discourses. In the process of projecting Tharrawaddy’s criminalized past into the events of 1930–31, administrative officials in Rangoon moved to secure special legislation in order to provide local government with more effective counter-insurgency measures. This process required constant communication and coordination with the government of India, which oversaw affairs in British Burma and acted as a liaison between Rangoon and London. In addition, discussion was allowed in regard to counter-insurgency policy in the Burma Legislative Council , drawing heated debate over these ordinances and subsequent bills. NotionsaboutthenatureofBurmesepeasantbeliefsandbehaviorwere recorded, regularized, and rehearsed within the context of legislative debate and discussion that pertained to their passage. Particular characteristics of Burmese peasant life were identified as, and translated into, a counter-insurgency prose that presented tattooing, wondering monks, and various aspects of spirit worship as subjects understandable within the context of terrorism. By introducing these...


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