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Chapter 5 CODIFYING REBELLION Origins of a Resistance Narrative The sentencing and execution of Saya San in November 1931 did not mark the end of the Rebellion for the colonial administration as new outbreaks continued to emerge in districts throughout Upper Burma and the Shan States. As a result, legislative powers were extended and subsequent Special Tribunals would oversee the trials of hundreds of suspected rebels, building upon the findings made by the original tribunal and the Rebellion Ethnology upon which it (and the narratives it produced) were based. These trials, conducted between the years 1932 and 1933 not only connected the stories of resistance to those that were produced at the onset of the outbreaks, but they consolidated the strategies, rules, and paradigms employed by earlier counterinsurgency officials into a roughly hewn, but recognizable discourse. They recorded the activities of other rebels while emphasizing the criminalized nature of Burmese culture that had been deemed readable through the prism of rebellion. Narratives that were potentially disparate, contradicting, or contextually at odds with Saya San’s were fused with elements from his story through the prescriptive authority of the courts. What had been originally conceived of as a “local” disturbance in 1930 was by 1932 being designated “the Burma Rebellion ,” reflecting the manner in which counter-insurgency policies and tactics delineated the epistemological field of “Burma.” Administratively , this shift in how the rebellion was being viewed was expressed more comprehensively through reports that merged district accounts 140 Chapter 5 into single documents that charted the Rebellion over specific periods of time. Distinctive patterns among the various outbreaks were delineated by projecting the minlaung profile and other characteristics of the Rebellion Ethnology into districts such as Thayetmyo, where a rebel leader was even designated as another “Saya San.”1 Tattooing, rituals of allegiance, and the distribution of charms and amulets were identified as key elements signaling not only the unified nature of the Rebellion, but the common cultural worldview that was seemingly shared among rural communities. By 1933, the Rebellion was being classified as having reverted to “dacoity,” suggesting that the main impulses for organized resistance had dissipated and that the responses to the outbreaks had been largely successful. If in its earliest inception the goal of the rebellion was aimed at overthrowing the government, it was now deemed less organized and unwilling to engage security forces directly.2 Now only random acts of banditry, theft, and other acts of civil disobedience characterized the situation—perhaps the reflection of a growing military presence on the one hand or a lack of a cohesive strategy on the part of rural cultivators on the other. At the same time, declarSaya San exiting Tharrawaddy Jail Codifying Rebellion 141 ing the end of the Rebellion also enabled the Burma government to announce to both local and external audiences that its counterinsurgency measures were largely successful and that the province was once again under administrative control. Satisfying enquiries from colonial offices in London and New Delhi were a priority as affairs of the Empire regularly drew attention from policy makers in Parliament, who were concerned over the manner in which business in the colonies would be perceived by the domestic electorate. In fact, it was from a series of questions stemming from Parliament over the continued detention of sentenced rebels and debate over the economic or political origins of the Rebellion that contributed to the production and release of one of the most frequently cited sources in the historical record.3 The Origins and Causes of the Burma Rebellion (1930–1932) The official blue-book report The Origins and Causes of the Burma Rebellion (1930–32) was published to establish the Crown’s counterinsurgency expenditure, the causal factors of the Rebellion, and the manner in which detainees were managed throughout the course of the outbreaks. The report was hardly easy reading: one official described it as “an ill-digested mass of extracts from the judgments in the various trials” whereas another thought that it was such a “dull and uninspiring production” that it was not worth even “placing copies in the Library of the House.”4 Yet, the document served as the final statement by Rangoon officials on what they saw as the foundations of the Rebellion, as certain critics within and without Burma attributed the unrest in rural areas to a failure in economic policies, a potentially damaging indictment of the colonial administration.5 The report represented the view that the Rebellion was political in nature...


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