- Dr. Saw Mra Aung
I was stunned by the news of the demise of Sayamagyi Daw Kyan, a native of Rakhine, at the ripe age of 102 years on 16 November, 2019. Her death was an irreplaceable loss not only to Rakhine but also to the whole Myanmar. Although Sayamagyi and I belong to the same ethnic race, I had no close relation with her. I had met only once with her at a meeting held by the Sarpay Beikman about six years ago. Never Had I seen her again in the flesh since then. But I was later much more acquainted with her through her books and my teachers, her colleagues who often talked about her. I pay my tribute to her with this article for two reasons. The first one is that I had a great admiration for her due to her peerless literary contributions. And the second is that my nationalistic pride was conceived in my mind with the thought that I , as a Rakhine national, should proudly enter her name in the list of a brood of learned personalities Rakhine State has ever produced including Sayadaw U Ottama, U Shwe Zan Aung, U May Aung, Daw Mya Sein, U San Shwe Bu, I.C.S. U Shwe Mra, I.C.S.U Kyaw Min, I.C.S. U Shwe Baw, I. C.S. U Kyaw Khaing, I.C.S. U Sein Nyo Tun, Dr. Yee Yee, U San Tha Aung, etc. Though some of the afore-said Rakhine erudite personalities achieved only posthumous fame, Sayamagyi’s reputation had spread further afield, while she was still active and alive for her exceptional literary talent and contributions.
Sayamagyi was born to U Kyaw Tun and Daw Ngwe Hnit on July 1, 1918 in Taung-goke in Thandwe district with the world-famous Ngapali Sea-beach four miles west of the town, in the southern Rakhine State. She started her primary education at the tender age of five years and passed the High School Final(matriculation) examination with Grade A from the Thandwe Governmental High School in 1935. Soon, she embarked on her life profession as a junior assistant teacher at the Thandwe Governmental High School. Then she was transferred to the post-offices of Thandwe and Sittwe as an upper-division clerk. But, as she had a great thirst for knowledge, she left the postal service in 1951 to pursue university education.
Therefore, Sayamagyi set forth for Yangon and started to read at Yangon University in the same year and graduated with a B. A degree in March 1954. She was appointed a tutor at the Department of English Language and Literature soon after her graduation and worked there for two years from 1954 to 1956. She entered the Myanmar History Commission (which was subsequently changed into the Department of Historical Research) as a Senior Research Officer in 1956. Thenceforwards, she devoted most of her time to doing research on Myanmar History and writing many articles, research papers, monographs and books on the findings of her research. In 1957 and 1959, she was entrusted with the task of collecting and copying rare documents on Myanmar History from the libraries, archives and other resource centres in England. She accomplished her task well and could bring back some rare, invaluable historical documents like micro-films, etc. from England to Myanmar. In 1959, she secured a M. A degree(History). That year, in recognition of her contributions, she was selected to tour some big towns in Australia under the Cultural Award Scheme. She retired from the Myanmar History Commission in 1984 but continued to serve as a Consultant to it for four years and was then appointed a Part-time Professor at the Department of History in Yangon University. Advanced as she was in age, she actively and healthily served until her death in various capacities such as a Full-time Member of the Myanmar Language Commission, a Member of the Selection Board of National Literary Awards, a Member of the Selection Board of Pakokku U Ohn Pe Literary Awards and a Member of the Committee of Arranging Reference Books of the Sarpay Beikman .
Sayamagyi is such a prolific, committed writer that she has so far compiled a considerable number of books. To the best of my knowledge, she wrote “ ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံအေျခအေန” (The Situation of Myanmar (1885-86)) in 1978,
“ ပေဒသရာဇ္ ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံဇာတ္သိမ္း ” ( The End of Feudalist Myanmar ) in 1981, “ သမိုင္းရွာေတ ာ္ပုံခရီးႏွင္႔ တျခားစာတမ္းမ်ား “ ( In Search of History and Other Articles) in 2002 “မဟာ၀န္ရွင္ေတာ္မင္းၾကီး အုပ္ခ်ဳပ္ေရး” (The High Commissioner Administration(1886-97)) in 2003, “ ကုန္းေဘာင္ေခတ္၏ ေနာက္ဆုံးအားမာန္ “(The Last Fervent Attempt in Konbaung Period) in 2004, “ကိုလိုနီေခတ္ဦး ေက်းရြာအုပ္ခ်ဳပ္ေရး” ( The Rural Administration of Early Colonial Period( 1886-97)) and “ ျမန္မာ့သမိုင္းႏွင္႔ ဆက္ႏြယ္ေသာ အေနာက္ႏိုင္ငံသားမ်ား” (The Westerners Related to Myanmar History) in 2005, The Selected Writings of Daw Kyan , “က်မ္းသုေတသနျပဳျခင္း” (Research Methodology) and “ကုန္းေဘာင္ေခတ္ ျမန္မာ့ရဲမက္ေတာ္မ်ား ” (Myanmar Soldiers of Konbaung Period) in 2006, “ ေရႊတိဂုံေစတီေတာ္ႀကီးမွ ေၾကးအုတ္မ်ား” (Copper Bricks from the Shwedagon Pagoda) in colleague with Dr Yee Yee in 2007 and, “ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံ စက္မႈသမိုင္း”
(The History of Myanmar Industry) in 1985-1990. Moreover, she also edited two books entitled “ ဘဂၤလားသြားစာတမ္း”,
(The Treatise on the Trip to Bangalore) in 1963 and “ရတနာသိခၤ ျမိဳ႔ထြက္ ရဲတင္းေမာ္ကြန္း” (The Epic Poem on Setting forth from Ratanasinkha) in 1968.
The State Government and some private organizations awarded Sayamagyi many prizes in acknowledgement of her constant contributions to the nation. She was accorded the Life-long National Literary Award and five National Literary Awards for the book titled,” ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံအေျခအေန” ( The Situation of Myanmar (1885-86))
“ in 1978, “ သမိုင္း ရွာေတာ္ပုံခရီးႏွင္႔ တျခားစာတမ္းမ်ား” ( In Search of History and Other Articles) “ in 2002, “ မဟာ၀န္ရွင္ေတာ္မင္းၾကီး အုပ္ခ်ဳပ္ေရး”(The High Commissioner Administration(1886-97)) “in 2003 and” ကိုလိုနီေခတ္ဦး ေက်းရြာအုပ္ခ်ဳပ္ေရး“ ( The Rural Administration of Early Colonial Period( 1886-97)) “ in 2005, etc. . In addition, the Tun Foundation Literary Award was conferred on her in 2006 for the book titled “ The Selected Writings of Daw Kyan” and the Pakokku U Ohn Pe Life-long Literary Award in 2004 for her dedicated literary devotion. Moreover, she was also offered the Art Outstanding Prize and the Outstanding Woman Prize.
In brief, I find that Sayamagyi gradually worked her way from a lower rank up to the top of her profession – from a teacher, a postal staff, a historian, a researcher and a writer up to a scholar. So rare is a woman of versatility like Sayamagyi in the Myanmar society, where more men than women come to the fore in many aspects due to traditional and cultural conventions and constraints, although the latter are officially permitted to stand on the equal footing with the former there. I also notice that, though Sayamagyi almost confined her research area to Late Konbaung and Early Colonial Periods of Myanmar, she also wrote some research articles on Rakhine History, among which the ones titled, “ Doe Wei, a Marama Royal Reader of Rakhine King Abhayamaharaja” and, “ Nga-zin-ga and Nga-in-ga “, could, I think, provide clues to some riddles of Rakhine History. Moreover, Sayamagyi wrote an article entitled “ The Treatises of Rakhine History”. In it, she gave reviews on many ancient Rakhine chronicles and histories which have appeared in the form of palm-leaves and books in Rakhine. It can, to a great extent, help those who study Rakhine History find reference books. I am aware as well that Sayamagyi wrote some more articles on Rakhine History, all of which can serve Rakhine historical researchers as assets. So I want to say that Sayamagyi has done to her possible degree for revelation of Rakhine history and Myanmar history and that she, as a native of Rakhine, could have fulfilled her national and literary duty. I, as a Rakhine national, really swell with pride at the phenomenal achievements she redounded to the country and the people.