Rare White Elephant Promises Prosperity
covering burma and southeast asia
Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Rare White Elephant Promises Prosperity

By Taw Taw Monday, February 17, 2003

A white elephant, a rare symbol of nobility, power and prosperity, was officially welcomed last week to its new home at the Yadana White Elephant Park. But some, including a respected Rangoon-based historian, say that the discovery will not be a cure-all for the nation’s ills. "There is no connection between white elephants and the development of the country," said historian Dr Than Htun. But the discovery of the elephant—widely regarded in many Southeast Asian countries as a sign of good fortune—has seen junta leaders quick to take advantage of the superstition. State-run media have used news of the elephant to boost public confidence, assuring people that this lucky omen proves what the generals have been saying all along. The local press has reported that peace and prosperity is now assured with the discovery of the elephant. But with a deepening economic crisis, critics say even a treasured white elephant will not be enough to guarantee prosperity in Burma. "Having the white elephants doesn’t change the political, economic and social situation," said a Rangoon resident. "The country is in a very bad position." At the ceremony, Sec-1 Gen Khin Nyunt doused the elephant in water laced with gold, silver and precious stones, part of a test to see if the elephant’s color is genuine. If the skin turns red after having water poured on it, they are declared to be a rare white elephant but if the skin becomes darker, they are simply thought to be normal elephants. Named "Rati Marlar", this is the third white elephant to be found and captured in the past two years. After the ceremony, eight well-wishers donated one million kyat (US $910) for the elephant’s up-keep. Rati Marlar will live with Burma’s two other white elephants in special enclosure with a man-made waterfall, pond and trees at the park in Rangoon’s Insein Township. "The elephant is considered higher and more sacred than human beings—they [junta leaders] shouldn’t encourage false ideas and beliefs to the people like that," the Rangoon resident added. Dr Than Htun agreed, saying: "Elephants are animals whether they are white or black." Another resident of Rangoon, a Buddhist layman said religious leaders also need to be responsible and think about the effects of worshipping false beliefs. The first white elephant, "Yaza Gaha Thiri Pissaya Gaza Yaza" was captured in Oct 2001 in western Burma’s Arakan State when he was aged eight. Within a year, a second white elephant, 25-year-old "Thingi Marlar" was also captured in Arakan State. The rare elephants aren’t actually white, but have light reddish-colored skin and white hairs. They have larger ears than ordinary elephants in Asia, as well as distinct white eyes and hooves.

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