Jan 11, 2008

Nagalim: Junta Exploits Cultural Heritage

Once again, Naga New Year festivals in Burma are being exploited by the military junta to attract much-needed foreign currency to the pariah state.

Once again, Naga New Year festivals in Burma are being exploited by the military junta to attract much-needed hard currency to bolster the pariah state.

Below is an article written by Maung Dee and published by Mizzima News:

The Burmese military junta's planned Naga New Year celebration slated for mid-January [2008] in Western Burma's Sagaing division, is just a tourist attraction to earn foreign exchange to will fill the junta's coffers, a Naga organization in exile said.

The Naga National Democratic Organisation (NNDO), has called on all Nagas and supporters to boycott the junta's Naga New Year festival in Lashi town on the Naga Hill track in Sagaing division saying the festival is aimed at attracting tourists which will earn foreign exchange for the junta. It does not aim to promote the Naga culture.

"We are boycotting the festival as it is meant to showcase the culture of the Nagas to earn some foreign exchange. So, we want to tell tourists not to come to the festival. Because by coming to the festival they will be indirectly supporting the junta," Aung Ba, spokesperson of the NNDO told Mizzima.

"We want to invite tourists as well as others only when we are allowed to do so freely by ourselves," added Aung Ba.

Aung Ba said prior to 2003 the Nagas, ethnic minorities of Burma residing on the Naga Hill tracts along the indo-Burmese border, under the cultural committee had agreed to celebrate the New Year festival, that falls on January 15 [2008], in the major Naga inhabitant towns including Khamti, Nanyun, Lashi and Lahe, by rotation.

However, following the Burmese junta's declaration of the Naga Hills as tourist site in 2003, the Nagas are only allowed to conduct New Year festivals in Lashi and Lahe towns under the supervision of the junta, Aung Ba said in a statement released on Wednesday [2 January 2008].

According to the statement, the junta in 2003 handed a contract to a business company, Diamond Palace, to organize the annual festival in the Naga Hills.

As preparation for the festival, villagers are being forced to build temporary tents, stores, and even hotels for tourists to stay with out any monetary compensation, Aung Ba said.

"In fact we the locals have nothing to benefit from the festival. All we get is extra work without any compensation. There are no development projects being undertaken for the festival," Aung Ba said.

The Naga traditional dances and a variety of cultural practices, which the Nagas have preserved with great effort has turned into an entertainment business for tourists and others, the statement released by the NNDO said.

"Dances are our traditional and cultural legacy, which we do with love and to build relationships among one another. But it is used for entertainment this is the worst part of it. If you watch State TV, you will see that no dancer has smiling faces, because they are forced to dance," Aung Ba said.

The NNDO in the statement, urged all Nagas to unite against the exploitation by the ruling junta, saying as long as the military junta rules Burma the Naga tradition and culture will continue to be used to showcase and earn foreign exchange.

Ethnic Nagas, who mainly inhabit the western hill tracts of Sagaing division in Burma, share a common identity with the Nagas living across the border in northeastern India.