On Saturday 27 November 2010 I was thrilled to participate at the 2105th Shan New Year celebrations at University College London. Organised by the Shan Cultural Association in the UK (SCA-UK), the event attracted some 250 people, most of whom were Shan, including representatives of the sangha (the community of ordained Buddhist monks).
The Shan people form one of many ethnic minority groups in Burma (Myanmar) but like many such groups they are truly ‘transnational’, as Shan people also live in parts of China, Thailand, Vietnam and India. Royal Pavilion & Museums is an important repository for Shan material culture, particularly that relating to life in Burma’s Shan States. Much of it was associated with the court and includes ceremonial textiles, silverware and other court regalia. Members of elite Shan families were forced to leave Burma after the military coup of 1962 and several sought exile in Britain. Some live in the South East and the Museums Service has been fortunate in being the recipient of several generous donations of Shan material culture from these individuals. Many have been similarly generous with their time and it has been fascinating, as a museum curator, to hear first-hand accounts of life in the Shan States at a period when the region was undergoing great change.
At the event I was able to talk to event participants about Shan material in the collection, also to share with them some historic photos of Shan individuals taken by a British man, James Henry Green, in the 1920s. The photo attached here shows Sao Shwe Thaike, the saopha (or ruler) of the state of Yaunghwe (and later first president of the newly independent Union of Burma), with his second wife, Sao Nang Sanda. Their daughter, Sao Sanda Simms, is one of those whose generosity has made this facet of the collections so unique.
Helen Mears, Keeper of World Art