A Teatime Tête-à-Tête
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CULTURE

A Teatime Tête-à-Tête


By The Bandoola Journal FEBRUARY, 2007 - VOLUME 15 NO.2


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“I didn’t kill the princes,” Suphayalat told a Rangoon reporter in a rare interview

After the death of King Thibaw, Queen Suphayalat returned to Burma from India in 1919 and lived the rest of her life in a mansion provided by the British government in Churchill Road (now known as Komin Kochin Road) in Rangoon. She was visited there by foreigners and Burmese from all walks of life, and in September 1924 a local reporter was granted a rare interview with her. The Bandoola Journal senior reporter, Maung Ka Lay, wrote a verbatim report of the interview:

 
 

“According to our tradition, I paid homage to the queen as she entered the upstairs living room. I had deep feelings when I saw the queen and Princess Suphaya, the queen’s daughter. The princess was also known as Madarus Suphaya as she was born in Madarus, India. Nowadays, it is rare to find a face as full of honesty as [that of] the queen and the princess.

The queen glanced at me and asked: From where?

The queen’s son-in-law, Hteik Tin Gyi, replied: A reporter from Bandoola Journal. He wants to meet you.

Q: What do you want to know? Ask me whatever you want to know.

After that, she told me to sit and make myself at ease.

Q: Your majesty! How are you?

A: Fine.

Q: How old are you? 

A: I am 65 years old.

Q: How much salary did they pay you while living in Yadanagiri?

A: At first, they gave me 10,000 [Rupees] and then 6,000.

Q: Apart from the salary, was any other money given to you?

A: Every year they gave us 5,000 [Rupees] in Tagu (April) and 1,500 in Thadingyut (October), above the salary. They also gave us 3,000 for the birthdays of the king and Suphaya.

Q: After returning to Burma, how much salary did they pay you then?

A: At first, they paid 2,500 and then 2,000, a reduction of 500. But after the lawyer’s wife told them about the matter, they increased it again by 500.

Q: The salary they gave to you is very low.

A: I don’t know. They give us as they wish. I don’t want to say anything.

Q: Apart from 2,500, did they give you extra money as they did in Yadanagiri?

A: No. But when I asked for that in Tagu, they gave us 3,000. But they cut 250 from my salary for that payment. When I donated 1,000 for the funeral of Mya Taung Sayadaw [a venerable monk], I borrowed the money from the wife of a rich Chinese. I am still repaying the debt.

The queen then asked me an unusual question: Is it true that the people believe I killed the princes?

A: Yes, they do.

The queen:  What the people believe is wrong. I didn’t kill the princes. I was a child when I was installed o­n the throne.

Q: Is this mansion owned by the government?

A: (Princess Madarus Suphara) Yes. But they asked for tax when a garden was built in a small space in the grounds of the mansion. We didn’t pay for it because of our defense [costs?]. 

Q: I would like to know about King Thibaw’s death.

A: He died at 12 pm o­n December 15, 1916. Three years later, I left Yadanagiri o­n April 10, 1919 and arrived in Burma o­n April 18. 

Q: I would like to know about King Thibaw’s body?

A: When the King died, we didn’t have enough money for his funeral, and we didn’t have a chance to hold a traditional funeral rite. The body was first placed in a room of the mansion, and then, o­n February 9, 1917, it was placed in a tomb located in the yard. The tomb was moved into a forest in March 1919 by the authority concerned.

Princess Madarus Suphara: The tomb is so far from the palace that it takes half a day to get there. The tomb was o­n a hill at the center of the forest.

A: When I knew that I would have to come back to Burma and when I planned to take the tomb with me to Burma, I was thinking of whether or not the people embraced it [the idea] warmly.



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