Thibaw Min

Thibaw Min

Thibaw Min (သီပေါ‌မင်း; born Maung Pu January 1, 1859December 19, 1916; or simply Thibaw, Theebaw, or Theobaw (referred to as Thibau by George Orwell in Burmese Days) was the last king of Burma, Konbaung Dynasty (now Myanmar). His reign ended when Burma was defeated by the forces of the British Empire on 29 November, 1885, prior to its official annexation on 1 January 1886.

Thibaw was born in Mandalay and studied briefly in a Buddhist monastery. His father Mindon Min made him prince of the northern State of Thibaw (now Hsipaw), from which he took his name, and he succeeded as king on 1 October 1878 with the help of a powerful widow of his late father and other senior officials. He was married to two of his half sisters the younger of which was known to have a substantial influence on him.

At the time of his accession half of Burma had been under British occupation for thirty years. Understandably this was resented and it was no secret that the king intended to regain this territory. Relations fouled when during the early 1880s the king began making moves to move his country closer to the French. Relations deteriorated still further around 1885 in an incident called the "Great Shoe Question" where the royal court insisted that visiting British dignitaries remove their shoes before entering the palace. The British officials refused and were banished from the northern capital. Finally, in 1885 Thibaw issued a proclamation calling on all his countrymen to liberate Lower Burma from the British.

The British, using the pretext that he was a tyrant who had reneged on his treaties, decided to complete the conquest that had started in 1824. General Prendergast, with 11,000 men, a fleet of flat-bottomed boats, and elephant batteries, received orders to invade Upper Burma.

Though the partiality or accuracy of the story related above cannot now be proved, Thibaw, his wife Supayalat and two infant daughters were exiled to Ratnagiri, India, where they lived the rest of their lives in a dilapidated house in virtual isolation.

Exile and the fate of the Royal Family

Thibaw had eight children of whom six were born in Burma and two were born in exile in India. His first four children (two sons and two daughters) perished from small pox at the Royal Palace when very young. His eldest surviving child Princess Myat Phaya (Mibura) Gyi was born in 1882 followed by her younger sister Myat Paya Lat born in 1884. Following the arrest of the royal family in 1885 they and a few retainers were first sent to Ceylon and then Madras on what was certainly an extremely stressful journey for the young family. At Madras in March 1886 the pregnant Queen Supayalat gave birth to their third surviving daughter, Princess Myat Phaya. In early 1887 the family arrived at their place of exile in Ratnagiri close to Bombay and the birth of the fourth daughter Princess Mayat Phaya Galay followed in April that year.

Life was certainly not easy for the family in Ratnagiri. By all accounts their money soon ran out and they were forced to live off a meagre pension. The eldest daughter, Phaya, fell in love with one of the servants; the gatekeeper Shrimant Gopal Bhaurao Savant; by whom she had a child out of wedlock in 1906. The king died of a heart attack at the age of 58 in 1916 and was buried in a mausoleum on the estate. Though the British portrayed King Thibaw as a tyrant, he was known to be a religious and polite person and had tried to save his country as best he could. Supayalat returned to Rangoon in 1919. She died six years later in 1925 shortly before her 66th birthday.

KIng Thibaw himself gave an account of the reasons for his overthrow in a testimonial he wrote from exile for Esoof cheroots and quoted by C. L. Keeton in his book 'King Thebaw and the Ecological Rape of Burma': My late father, the Royal Mindon Min, the golden-footed lord of the white elephant, master of a thousand gold umbrellas, owner of the Royal peacocks, lord of the sea and of the world, whose face was like the sun, always smoked the Esoof cheroot while meditating on his treatment of the bull-faced, earthswallowing English. Had I done the same I should never have lost my throne, but I used the opium-drugged cheroots from Manila and the trash which was sent me from San Francisco, and I fell.

The fate of the children was a chequered one. The eldest daughter eventually married her father's former servant and by him she had two further children. She and returned to Rangoon in 1947 following the independence of India. However she was unwelcome because of her marriage to a commoner and an Indian Hindu at that and was compelled to return to the only home she knew in Ratnagiri. Tragically she died shortly after she returned.

The fate of the three other daughters of Thibaw was not so sad. Princess Myat Paya Lat married her father's former private secretary Thakin Kin Maung Lat. It is believed she died in exile in Kalimpong, India, in 1956. The third daughter, Princess Mayat Paya, married Prince Kadow Gyi, grandson of Mindat Min, in 1922 (divorced 1929). They had one daughter, Princess (Hteik Su) Gyi Phaya Rita (b. 20 May 1924). Princess Mayat Paya died in 1962. The youngest daughter of Thibaw, Princess Mayat Phaya Galay, married a former monk in 1921. She had four sons and two daughters. They and their children represent the extant members of the Burmese royal family and most of them continue to live in Burma. Princess Mayat Phaya Galay's eldest son Taw Phaya Gyi was murdered in 1948 by communists. Another of her sons Taw Phaya Lay was patron of the Ma-Ma-Ta Patriotic Front. He was placed under house arrest during much of the 1970s and 1980s dying in Rangoon in 2006. The other sons and grandsons of Princess Mayat Phaya Galay, the youngest daughter of King Thibaw, continue to live in Burma to this day. The head of the Konbaung dynasty is Taw Phaya (b. 22 March 1924), the second son of Princess Myat Phaya Galay, who married Princess Gyi Phaya Rita (see above). He would be succeeded by his eldest son Taw Phaya Myat Gyi (b. 14 May 1945). His grandson is Taw Phayar Galay (aka) Aung Zay.

See also

References

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King Thebaw and the ecological rape of Burma, Charles Lee Keeton III, Manohar Book Service, India 1974.

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