‘Nat’ spirits in Burma

Mt.Popa, home to 37 Mahagiri Nats

'Nat' red and white protection flag

'Nat' shrine at entrance to Palaung village

So, you might think, get rid of the Military dictatorship and all problems will be solved in Burma?

The situation in Burma is not black and white; even opponents of the ruling miitary regime agree that there is no easy solution to the problems of the country which constituted a feudal state in the early 19th century where ‚nats‘ played a more important part in decision making than many human advisors.

What are nats? They are pre-Budhist animist ‚unseen spirits‘ most of whom are spirits of talented people who had been executed by the kings in past times times because of some minor wrongdoing. Later they were considered powerful but capricious beings who could influence affairs in the country.

Even today, the generals apparently visit the worshiping sites of nats with their offerings to ask for support in their actions. When you enter many villages in the countryside you can still see the little altars with offerings to these ever powerful nats and there are festivals throughout the year to celebrate them.

I noticed with interest on the bus when I was traveling east to Lashio that the driver had red and white pieces of cloth hanging from his mirror, which looked a bit like a Polish flag. I found out from an elderly English speaking passenger that , no, this was not a Polish flag, but a nat form of protection while driving!

So this 19th century feudalism was then replaced by British colonial rule and the Brits succeeded in many areas in converting many people especially from the Kachin, Karen and Chin ethnic groups to christianity and got them to join the British military force which led to future resentment once the country became independent and the issue of different ethnic group demands is still a problem to be resolved for any future leader in Burma.

Today Burma is 90% budhist and the rest are muslims, christians, and hindus. Apparently people are free to practice the religion of their choice.
 Moreover, many families have members in both the military and pro- democracy movements, and many soldiers don’t approve of military rule but are intimidated into carrying out the orders of their military commanders.
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One response to “‘Nat’ spirits in Burma

  1. Pingback: Girls at Hintha Gon Shrine | Kelsey Dawn

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