U Tin Aye: The Shan who was not afraid

U Shwe Ohn, one of his contemporaries, had called him a forefather of the Union. He had even wrote a biography about this man who had been instrumental in the creation of the agreement that had merged the non-Burman peoples with Burma in 1948.

But after I have read U Tin E (Shan Pyi) ee Bawa Ponyake Kauk Kyaung Lay Mya (Images of the life of U Tin E-Shanland), a 183 page collection of articles written by himself and friends, I thought “The man who was not afraid” would be a better fitting title.

Many Shans have blamed him and his Shan State People’s Freedom League (SSPFL) for organizing two mass rallies — one in Taunggyi and the other in Panglong — that had twisted the Panglong Conference’s arm to form a Union with Aung San’s Burma. The result was the appellation — in several quarters, not all: “The guy who sold us out.”

Little however was known how he had viewed his own role until the booklet came out. “13 years after Independence, one single sentence that will summarize the over-all situation is: The Shan State is congested with discontent against Mainland Burma,” he wrote. “It has lost all the rights entitled to a constituent state. Elements that have reached the end of their tether are already taking up arms believing that there is no other way to regain them except through the armed struggle.”

Dr Kyaw Aung, who compiled the articles, also wrote in the foreword:

Following Gen Aung San’s passing, when the terms of agreement failed to come to life, he would bitterly complained, “We have become culprits in history.” His “we” includes not only himself, but also U Kya Bu, U Tun Myint, Sao Yape Pha, U Khun Saw Pindaya, Khun Hti Panglong and others who had co-signed the Panglong Agreement.

U Tin E (he never wrote his name Tin Aye like others) was born of a Shan father and Intha mother in Yawnghwe on 9 December 1916. He received his BA from the Rangoon University in 1940. His political activities began in 1942 with the organization of public libraries. As the leader of the SSPFL, Aung San had placed heavy reliance on him when he was persuading the Shans to join the Burmans for joint independence. However, after Independence, he spent most of his life at the Rangoon University where he taught Burmese, his specialty. He briefly returned to politics when he served as Councillor of State, 1978-1981.

One of his former students recalled that at the farewell party held in his honor, he said, “When you arrive in Taunggyi, watch out for a Shan old timer wearing a rough Shan jacket, rough Shan pants and a Shan bamboo hat (with a wide brim) digging earth with a hoe.”

He was without a doubt a man of humor. After finishing school, he got a job to teach Burmese to foreigners. And this was what he wrote:

Imagine a Shan teaching Burmese to a bunch of Indians using English (to explain to them). What a ludicrous world this is!

He died on 16 October 1995 at the age of 79.

Indeed, U Tin E was not afraid to admit.

14 writers contributed their articles to the booklet. They include 4 well known Shans: Shwe Ohn, Sai Aung Tun, Maung Lin Yong (Shan Pyi) and Luke Hkam Lu.


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