- Editor's Note
It is an incredible honour to receive the editorship baton for the Journal of Burma Studies. I feel tremendous gratitude to the previous and inspiring editors: Alicia Turner and Lilian Handlin, for their amazing work, skill, and leadership in operating the Journal. They have been crucial in making The Journal an integral component in my own education, as surely as that of countless others. With this baton, I know my colleagues fully expect me to run with it. As such, and in dedication to the Journal's interdisciplinary scope and long-standing commitment to grounded, empirical research, I am pleased to introduce the research articles in this December issue: the articles comprise a tour d'horizon of disarmament, war retreat, railways and supernatural power in the region, particularly engaged with material from Chin, Karen, and Tai places and perspectives.
In his article, "Disarmament and Resistance in Colonial Burma: A Case Study of the Chin Hills" Pum Khan Pau offers an historically embedded examination of the tensions involved in colonial programs to divest Chin people of their guns. With a nuanced approach to the ethnic diversity in the region, Pau presents ethnographic detail regarding the social and symbolic value that Chin people attached to these weapons. Of interest as well are the technical aspects regarding the flint-lock, local manufacture of ammunition, and the ability of Chins to repair and maintain their weapons. As we learn, the guns were an important technology for hunting, warfare, as well as cultural practices. Because of this symbolic role, disarmament programs could be interpreted as a threat to autonomy, dignity and masculinity.
Turning to a different, yet still complex military relationship between the British and another one of Burma's ethnic nationalities, the Karen, Giulia Garbagni offers new insights in her article, "'The Friends of the Burma Hill People': Lt. Col. John Cromarty Tulloch and the British Support of the Karen Independence Movement, 1947-1952." Making use of data [End Page i] from recently de-classified personnel files and wartime memoirs, Garbagni argues that political relations embedded in and manifest by colonial mindsets should be taken into consideration when understanding the motives of John Cromarty Tulloch and his formation of the clandestine network, "The Friends of the Burma Hill People." Whereas other discussions have tended chalk his motives up to facile Cold War anti-communism, this new evidence suggests there is more to Tulloch's motives, his own bravado and idiosyncrasies notwithstanding.
Tracking colonial developments to the present, Lindsay Stubbs' article "Railways in Shan State" offers readers a detailed description and analysis of four railway lines in Southern Shan State. Importantly, the author describes their current states of use, disuse, as well as the ways in which the former SPDC government had sought to promote railway development. Physical evidence shows poor follow-through on these plans. In meticulous detail, we learn, too, of how despite poor ballasting and low-quality tracks, railway operators continue to use the lines by driving the trains slowly; evidence of local resilience in the face of inadequate infrastructure. Also, we learn about the challenges of the Shan State, but through the lens of railway development; trains cannot operate on certain high gradients, and steep terrain requires multiple switchbacks. The focus on railways offers an opportunity to consider not only the economic role of the vehicles of infrastructure, but their relationship with the political history and future of the region.
From Stubbs' discussion of the potential material power of railways, we switch to supernatural power imbued in material textiles. Susan Conway's article takes readers to another area of Shan/Thailand. We visit with specialised craftspeople, srā in numerous locations, including Taunggyi and Kengtung in the Shan State, and across the border into former Lan Na Kingdoms in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. We learn how different srā infuse cloth (and skin) with supernatural power, which can carry a positive or negative charge, as it were. Images of these mystical materials indicate letters, animals, [End Page ii] as well as phonetic exclamations and animal calls. The discussion of the creation and transfer of supernatural power to these material patterns is complemented by an array of...