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Sao Sam Htun: The peasant prince

Sao Sam Htun was assassinated along with Aung San on 19 July 1947 by the Burmese army. Chiang Mai-based Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN) shed some light on this historic figure who is known as the Prince of Mongpawn.

Sao Sam Htun: The peasant prince

Sao Sam Htun and his wife and children

By all accounts, he was one guy who would not have felt ashamed to introduce himself as a rustic. Described by the late Mahadevi of Yawnghwe in her memoirs, The White Umbrella, as "a kindly man who dreamed of returning to become a farmer", he had been working in agricultural experiments which might benefit his poor State, reports Mi Mi Khaing in her Kanbawsa: A modern view. "Grapefruit, avocado, olive and other foreign trees as well as improved strains of native crops were planted and tended by himself," she says.

He left all these to serve as Counselor for Frontier Areas, for which he was chosen by Shan, Chin and Kachin delegates at Panglong Conference, "for his reputation as a hardworking and studious man, his close touch with all frontier problems, and his easy and affectionate disposition towards all."

It should be noted here that despite its humble label, the Counselor for Frontier Areas, according to the Panglong Agreement, held executive authority. Part of his job was to see that the Executive Council in Rangoon "will not operate in respect of the Frontier Areas which would deprive any portion of these areas of the autonomy which it now enjoys in internal administration."

He was born of Sao Hkun Hti, known as an able fighter and negotiator, and Sao Zing Oo on 30 May 1907. He attended Taunggyi's Shan Chiefs School and later studied law in Meikhtila and crime investigation in Mandalay. As for the art of administration, he learned by working at it, first as an apprentice resident in Bhamo, then as an assistant at the Commissioner's office in Taunggyi. In 1928, at the age of 21, he ascended the Mongpawng throne, vacated by his dying father 6 years earlier.

Four years later, he married Sao Khin Thaung of Mongmit and had 4 children: Sao Suzanda, Sao Hso Hom, Sao Kaifah and Sao Myint Kyi.

There were bizarre forebodings of his untimely death. On the fateful day of 19 July 1947, on his way to the Secretariat Building where the Executive Council would meet, he disclosed to the Mahadevi of Yawnghwe his horoscope had forecast that was the way his life would end.

Members of his household also claimed how the flag that stood at his house at 31 Golden Vally Road in Rangoon suddenly fell without being upset either by the elements or living beings.

At 10:30, he was shot along with Aung San and other leaders at the meeting chamber. According to his driver, quoted by the Mahadevi of Yawnghwe, he was "not expected to last the night." Six other council members were already dead, including Aung San.

A conflicting version was provided by Hkun Kya Bu, a signatory of the Panglong Agreement, who was assigned by the Shan princes to look after Mongpawn.

According to him, Sao Sam Htun was taken to the General Hospital along with others. His Karen personal assistant personally carried him there. Apart from being unable to speak, because of the bullet wound in his cheek (the buccal cavity), Sao was conscious and in good spirits when last seen. "But no one was allowed to see him. They just told me he was all right, that there was nothing to worry about him. Then, the next day, it was announced that he died from his wounds," recounted Hkun Kya Bu in his memoris.

The two different accounts inevitably leave the reader with uncertainty, as to who was right, the Mahadevi of Yawnghwe or Hkun Kya Bu, both of whom had no apparent reason to recreate the event.

Perhaps S.H.A.N. readers, including his surviving sons, Sao Hso Hom and Sao Kaifah, can give more insights to the death of this truly remarkable prince.


Special to The Nation by Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)

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