Sao Haymar Thaik, a daughter of Shan State’s last royal ruler and Burma’s first president, speaks to SHAN about an exhibition of her ancestors’ royal clothing.
Some royal clothes of Sao Shwe Thaik, the last Saopha of Yawnghwe and the first president of Burma, will be exhibited at the National Museum in Yangon on June 9-18. All of the items on display have been cleaned and refurbished using the latest modern technology for the first time in decades. SHAN reporter Nang Seng Phoo recently spoke to Sao Haymar Thaik, one of Sao Shwe Thaik’s daughters, about the exhibition.
Question: Has the cleaning and renovating of the royal clothes of the Saopha (king) been completed? Have you got them back?
Answer: They have already sent some of the royal clothes [to Yawnghwe in Shan State]. Eleven sets of royal clothing will be exhibited at the National Museum in Yangon for the first time from June 9. Nang Lao Nguen organized the exhibition.
Q: Have you seen a great difference in the clothing after their cleaning in Yangon?
A: Well, it’s not just normal washing that was done. They used modern technology. Any stitches that were broken were fixed. The main difference is that any stains that were on the clothes have now disappeared. Even though the process hasn’t made the clothes look like new, nothing has been lost from the original style. I can say it’s better than before. It looks good.
Q: So you are satisfied with the cleaning and repair of the Saopha’s royal clothes?
A: Nang Lao Nguen is a Shan woman. She worked at the museum in Yawnghwe Haw [Palace] for 28 years. She loves to maintain these royal clothes and other royal objects. She requested permission from the Shan State government and the Union government to clean and refurbish the royal clothes of the Shan Saopha. This is the first time they have been cleaned like this. Even though we cannot own Yawnghwe Haw, I am committee chairperson of the museum there. I am so happy and satisfied with what they have done with the royal clothes. They have been ignored for so many years. Now a new generation can see them. I could not do it alone. I am also happy that the Shan State government has permitted the renovation of Yawnghwe Haw.
Q: Where will these royal clothes be kept after the exhibition?
A: I want to keep these royal clothes in Yawnghwe Haw. Yawnghwe Haw is the only Shan museum in Shan State. I wouldn’t agree with keeping these royal clothes in Yangon or Mandalay. They must be on display in the right place. After completing the renovation of Yawnghwe Haw, we are going to exhibit these royal clothes there. There are 138 complete sets of royal clothing, including royal belts and turbans. Eleven sets will be exhibited.
Q: What do you think about the exhibition in Yangon?
A: These royal clothes have been kept in Yawnghwe Haw, where foreign tourists can come to see them. However, nobody can explain them there because there is a lack of staff at the museum. So it’s good to hold an exhibition in Yangon, where foreign tourists can come to see them easily. I personally thank Nang Lao Nguen for arranging this.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to say?
A: There are currently only six people working at the Yawnghwe Haw museum. We propose that the Shan State government appoint five more staff to work at the palace. We need staff who can explain these royal clothes to foreign tourists. We are proud to have this Yawnghwe Haw in Shan State.
The Culture Ministry started to maintain the Yawnghwe Haw as a museum in the 1960s [after former dictator Gen. Ne Win assumed power in 1962]. It has been a Saopha museum, a culture museum, and a Buddhist museum. In 2013, the ministry transferred it to the Shan State government. It has 91 photos of the Saopha, 138 complete sets of royal clothing, and 338 other royal items.