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January 18, 2019

The Architect of Sovereignty, and Myanmar’s First Independence Day

  • An Interview with veteran journalist Hanthawaddy U Ohn Kyaing
    Interviewers: Ye Gaung Nyunt and Nandar Win
    Photo: Phoe Htaung

(CONTINUED FROM YESTERDAY)

Question: Please explain on the experience of first Independence Day of Myanmar.
Answer: It is my pleasure and honor to talk about the episode on the first Independence Day of Myanmar. Now, I am ninety years old, and that if I die, no one could be there to talk about the memories of the first Independence Day event.
Despite my desire in submitting all the documentary photos to the public, they were damaged due to many reasons. You may use the available photos, and that I will explain the events in detailed.
At the time that we regained independence, the condition and status of our country was fine as we achieved full sovereignty and independence. Our neighbor India sought dominium status for one year under the British influence, but our Bogyoke sought for total independence. Time flew away for (71) years, and that we have been celebrating Independence Day each and every year. However, only a few persons talk about the detailed event that had taken place on the first Independence Day.
Allow me to talk about the first celebration of Independence of Myanmar. We regained independence on the dot of 4:20 am in the early morning of 4 January 1948. All the citizens of the country in every nook and cranny, rural and urban, were fully awake for the whole night waiting for the prime time of liberty under the cool winter breeze.
The first Independence Day was celebrated in magnificence and grandeur under three separate agendas. The first event was the flag raising ceremony in reflecting the achievement of Independence and sovereignty. The second episode was the departure of British Governor from Myanmar. The third experience was the formation of Myanmar government at the constituent assembly.
On 4 January 1948 at 4:20 am, the nation became an independent republic, named the Union of Burma, with Sao Shwe Thaik as its first President and Thakin Nu as its first Prime Minister and Hluttaw Speaker Pyawbwai U Mya. Unlike most other former British colonies and overseas territories, it did not become a member of the Commonwealth.
All the journalists gathered at the center of the Secretariat, and all the elected lawmakers were there. A military band composed of Kayin Rifles (Kayin National Troop) alongside the Burma Defense Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Police Force was present there.
A team of traditional Royal Drum was there and the song of the Royal Drum was orchestrated. At 4:45 am the President and the Prime Minister stepped in the main venue along with the ceremonial team. When the red light was flickered as signal, everybody remained silent, and at 4:20 am, Burma’s last governor Sir Hubert Rance departed from the port on HMS Birmingham warship.
When the warship saluted the ceremony with (17) cannon shots, loud sirens were wailing at all establishments such as mills, factories, churches, and schools. The Buddhist monasteries in Yangon drummed up the large wooden bell, stroke the brass gong, and blew the conch shell.
President Sao Shwe Thaik adorned in neat Shan attire with pink color silk head gear, and that Prime Minister Thakin Nu was also in elegant Myanmar attire were seen among the gathering. Furthermore, Pyawbwai U Mya was in smart Myanmar attire. Government officers and secretaries were also there.
Exactly at 4:20 am, British flag Union Jack was lowered down by a British officer, and then Myanmar Naval Officer Major Saw Chit Sein, an ethnic Kayin national, raised the first Myanmar national flag with five white stars at the top of the flag pole.
At 4:45 am, all people entered the Hluttaw Assembly Hall, and President Sao Shwe Thaik declared taking on the powers and responsibilities of the President and delivered a presidential speech.
Next, the attending persons remained in two minutes silence in tribute and memory of Bogyoke Aung San, the fallen leaders, soldiers and patriots. Later, the President entrusted the state seal in the hands of Prime Minister Thakin Nu, and the ceremony adjourned on the first part.

Second part of the ceremony
The second part of the event was the departure of British last Governor Sir Hubert Rance from Yangon, which was started on the green lawn of the Governor House on Windsor Road at 6:45 am, the same day.
The President and the Governor came out together from the House, and took position on the dais. The British flag Union Jack was lowered and the State flag of Myanmar was raised, while the HMS Birmingham warship anchored in the Yangon River fired (17) cannon shots as gesture of honor.
Next, the Governor stepped downed from the rostrum and shook hands to all officers individually and then climbed on the waiting vehicle that drove away to Pansodan Jetty at Yangon River where HMS Birmingham was waiting. The episode was the end of British rule over Myanmar for (120) long years.

The Third part of the event
The Hluttaw of the sovereign nation convened for its first meeting at the Secretariat’s Assembly Hall at 10.15 a.m. the same day, and the Speaker and the lawmakers were sworn in. The President arrived at 10.30 a.m and delivered the Independence Day speech.
Next, the House Speaker read out the congratulatory messages sent from foreign countries. The first congratulatory message being read out was sent from George VI, King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth, followed with the message from Clement Richard Attlee, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and a British statesman. The messages from United States President Harry S. Truman and first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, followed by three to four messages from foreign countries were read out. Next, Prime Minister Thakin Nu submitted two proposals to the Parliament. This was the event of that day.

Two historic proposals being submitted to the Parliament on Independent Day
The first proposal was to endorse and approve by the Constituent Assembly on the agreement signed in London between Myanmar temporary Government and the British Government on 17 October 1947 empowering state power of the two parliaments in accordance with the article (231) subparagraph (1) of the Constitution of the Union of Myanmar. This was part of the Aung San – Atlee Agreement signed earlier in London.
The second proposal was to endorse and agree by the Constituent Assembly on the declaration announced by the President in accordance with the Article (231) of the Constitution of the Union of Myanmar. The declaration called for in elevating the standard and status of the poor and marginalized society and community of the country in conjunction with the abolition of beggars in the nation. After approving the documents, the Hluttaw adjourned.
Members of Government constituted on Independence Day
The portfolios of the ministerial posts were allocated to Thakin Nu as Prime Minister; Bo Letya as Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister; ICS U Tin Htut as Foreign Minister; Myanma Alin journalist U Tin as Minister of Finance and Revenue; Saw San Pho Thin as Minister of Kayin Affairs; U Tun Myint (Lin Kyay) as Minister of Shan State; Samar Duwar Sinwan Naung as Minister of Kachin State; Saw Wunna as Minister of Kayinni State (Now Kayah State); U Wann Thu Maung as Minister of Chin State; U Ba Gyan as Minister of Justice; U Ko Ko Gyi as Minister of Commerce, Civil Supply and Transport; Thakin Tin as Minister of Forestry and Agriculture; U Kyaw Nyein as Minister of Home Affairs; Mann Win Maung as Minister of Road Communication, Construction and Labor Affairs (Later served as President); Bo Pho Kun (Major Pho Kun) as Minister of Rehabilitation; Hinthada U Mya as Minister of National Planning and Industry; U Nyo Tun as Minister of Information; Bo Sein Hman as Minister without portfolio. The names of the Cabinet Ministers were announced, and the event came to a close.

Should upkeep and maintain valuable items
I would like to point out that we are generally weak in preserving valuable items that belongs to our history. The British Union Jack flag that we had lowered down and the first Myanmar flag that we had raised on the flag pole on 4 January 1948 were kept by one of the Myanmar officers it was learned.
Up till now, we have no idea in which record office, museum or archive that the flags have been kept and maintained. We heard that the items are there. Suppose we could find out and preserve properly for the public eyes, then we would be proud of for such possession of historically valuable items in our hands.
(To be continued)
Translated by UMT (Ahlon)

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