Lost Footsteps
Lost Footsteps

The 1950s at Home and Abroad

The Meaning of Thingyan

1. "Thingyan" (spelled "Saṁkran" in Burmese) is derived from the Sanskrit "Saṁkrānti". It is the same word as "Songkran" in Thai.  2. "Saṁkrānti" means the day the sun moves from one "rashi" or constellation of the zodiac to another. There are actually 12 "thingyans" in a year!  3. The "new year" marks the movement of the sun from the last constellation (Pisces or Mina in Sanskrit, "Mein" in Burmese) to the first (Aries or Mesa in Sanskrit, "Meittha" in Burmese). ...

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Birthday of U Thant

U Thant was born on 22 January 1909 in Pantanaw. The photograph on the left is U Thant as a student at Rangoon University c. 1928. The second is U Thant in 1970 as Secretary-General of the United Nations.

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Birth Anniversary of U Nyun

U Nyun, one of Myanmar's most distinguished public servants, was born on 20 January 1910 and was educated at Rangoon, Oxford and London Universities. He served in the ICS and then as a senior civil servant in the independent Burma government, before joining the UN in 1953. From 1959 - 1973 he was the Executive Secretary of UN ECAFE (now ESCAP), working directly under Secretaries-General Dag Hammarskjold and U Thant. U Nyun was one of many trained and experienced Burmese...

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Queen of Hlihin

The photograph shows our neighbours to the north: a queen of the Hlihin in what is today western Yunnan c.1945. The Hlihin were an independent people who speak a language related to Burmese; their homeland was absorbed into the Peoples Republic of China in the 1950s.

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The embers of the Cold War

The past as prologue? Burma became independent during the early years of the Cold War. In 1946 the United Kingdom decided to quit Burma. In 1947 the British government encouraged the Shan sawbwas and other minority leaders to join and support a new Union of Burma They did this in the hope that a unified Burma might fare better in the face of possible communist aggression. Over late 1949 the Chinese civil war ended with the victory of the communists...

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KMT Invasion of 1950

On 1 October 1949 Mao Tse-tung, standing at the gates of the Forbidden City in Peking, formally proclaimed the establishment of the Peoples’ Republic of China. Thousands of miles to the southwest the beaten remnants of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist armies straggled across the barely demarcated border along the cloud-covered Wa hills and into the princely state of Kengteng in the far east of Burma. They were led by General Li Mi of the Chinese Eighth Army, and they headquartered themselves...

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Prime Minister U Nu, Daw Mya Yee and Daw Khin Kyi in England 1950

In May 1950, Prime Minister U Nu in England, accompanied by his wife Daw Mya Yee and General Aung San's widow Daw Khin Kyi. During his days in London, Oxford, and elsewhere, U Nu tried hard to paint as rosy a picture as possible of the situation in Burma. He said peace was likely 'within a year' and encouraged British aid and investment. An article in the Spectator magazine (link below) however painted a very different (and more realistic) picture....

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Reciprocal State Visits of Myanmar and Indian Leaders

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Myanmar in 2012 and it was one of the dozens of visits between Indian and Myanmar heads of government and state to each other's countries since independence in 1947-8. These are two photographs from an early visit (in 1951). The first shows Pandit Nehru coming greet U Nu at Palam Airport (now Indira Gandhi International Airport). U Nu is to the left, already surrounded by journalists. The second photograph is from the same trip, with...

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Richard Nixon's Visit to Myanmar in 1953

Richard Nixon, as Vice-President of the United States of America, visited Myanmar in 1953. The US papers at the time all reported on his confrontation with left-wing and anti-American demonstrators at Pegu. A very witty Burmese communist held a sign that reads:  “Pax Vobiscum 
  Scant regard for homo sapiens of the East 
 Begets doubts about your move for peace.  
Rest assured, however, of one important fact
  That we shan't fight like Kilkenny cats
  To ensure for ravenous...

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U Myint Thein Delivered One of the Best Performance in UN History

On 17 April 1953 at the United Nations, Justice U Myint Thein brilliantly laid out the Burmese government's charge against Kuomintang aggression. Over the past several years, more than 10,000 Nationalist troops under KMT General Li Mi had crossed into Burma, and were by 1953, with active US intelligence support ("Operation Paper"), pushing west across the Salween and threatening all the Shan states. The KMT was also building up a massive trade in opium. The Burma Army, then facing communist...

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Census of 1953-57

The Government of Burma held a national census over several stages between 1953 and 1957. The Census Commissioner was ICS U Kyaw Khine. He was assisted by the (US AID funded) UN census adviser Milton Lieberman. In this 1953 photo, they are asking the first census question to President Dr. Ba U at the President's House. (Sorry for the poor quality of the photo).

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U Nu’s visit to China in 1954

Despite the many ups and downs of Sino-Myanmar relations in modern times (including Beijing backed the communist invasion of 1967), all Myanmar leaders since independence have made several visits to our giant eastern neighbour. This is a photo of U Nu with Mao Zedong during U Nu's first trip in December 1954. The Prime Minister's party included U Thant, Col Aung Kyi, U Myint Thein, and U Win Pe. Chairman Mao was likely surprised by U Nu's frankness on many...

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The First Myanmar Actress on Hollywood

Win Min Than achieves Hollywood fame as the co-star with Gregory Peck of the 1954 film "Purple Plain". She was married to Bo Setkya of the "Thirty Comrades". "Purple Plain" was her first acting experience, and though offered many subsequent roles, she chose never to appear in a film again.

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Burma Translation Society

The Burma Translation Society governing council in 1954 including many of the leading writers of the time. Standing (from l to r): U San Htwa, U Ba, U Khin Zaw, U Myo Min, U Thein Han, U Kaung, U Wun, U Thant Sitting (from l to r): Dr Htin Aung, Education Minister U Than Aung, retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Sir Mya Bu, Prime Minister U Nu, Finanace Minister U Tin, Supreme Court Justice U E Maung, U Cho. The...

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Prime Minister U Nu’s visit to the United States

Prime Minister U Nu made an official visit to the United States. The trip lasted more than three weeks, from 24 June to 16 July 1955, and included Washington D.C., New York, Ann Arbor (Michigan University), Knoxville (Tennessee), San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the Grand Canyon (Arizona). He was accompanied by his wife, Daw Mya Yi, U Thant (then Secretary, Prime Minister's Office), and Colonel Lwin (later head of Military Intelligence) as well as Burma's Ambassador to the US and...

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On the Way to the 1955 Bandung Conference

The April 1955 Bandung meetings were a testament to Burma's then dynamic international diplomacy. They were also a testament to Mingaladon airport's position as an international aviation hub - everyone had to stop in Rangoon anyway to travel to Indonesia. The photo was taken at Government House, from left to right: North Vietnamese Foreign Minister, later Prime Minister Pham Van Dong; Afghan Foreign Minister HH Sardar Muhammad Naim; Chinese Premier Chou En-lai; President Dr Ba U; Indian Prime Minister Nehru;...

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Nehru and Nasser in Rangoon

In 1955, Non-Aligned leaders Prime Minister Pandit Nehru of India and President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt (with U Nu in the background) walk down Merchant Street in Rangoon (Yangon). They were stopping over in Rangoon on their way to Bandung for the first Asian-African Summit.

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The First US Secretary of State to Visit Myanmar

The first US Secretary of State to visit Myanmar was John Foster Dulles, the archetypal Cold Warrior, who came in 1955 at the height of US Cold War interest in Burma, just after the defeat of the French in Indochina. He came with the hope to persuading the U Nu government to join the newly formed SEATO (South East Asian Treaty Organization). Relations with the US were not particularly close at the time. The two countries were not very familiar...

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Anniversary of 1955 Asian-African Bandung Conference

The Asian-African Conference was held in Bandung, Indonesia in 18-24 April 1955. It is better remembered as the "Bandung Conference". Burma was one of the principal organizers of the conference, together with India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Ceylon. The conference brought together 29 leaders of the newly independent non-Western world, representing no fewer than 1.5 billion people, more than half the entire planet. The host, Indonesia's president Sukarno called it "The First Inter-Continental Conference of Coloured People in the History of...

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Dag Hammarskjold’s Visit to Rangoon

On 6 February 1956 Dag Hammarskjold visited Rangoon and enjoyed evening cocktails with President Dr. Ba U and Commerce and Industry Minister U Raschid at Government House. Dag Hammarskjold was the 2nd Secretary-General of UN Secretary-General. He was arguably the organisation's best chief ever, providing tremendous intellectual leadership, courage, and managerial talent. His top aides were the greatest international civil servants in history - Dr. Ralph Bunche and Sir Brian Urquhart. He was on a round-the-world tour and later wrote...

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Ethiopia Emperor in Rangoon

The Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia at Government House in Rangoon. 

Emperor Haile Selassie I (ቀዳማዊ ኃይለ ሥላሴ), "the Conquering Lion of Judah", the descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, "Elect of God", who reigned from 1930-1974 and who was of course revered by many Rastafarians as the Messiah.

Haile Selassie is perhaps best known around the world for leading Ethiopia's resistance to the Italian invasion of 1935-6 and his impassioned appeal to the League of Nations. 

...

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Getting Ready for Independence Day Celebrations 1956

Getting ready for Independence Day celebrations on 4 January 1956. This picture was taken when Rangoon was cool. Early 20th-century government publications described Rangoon's climate in December-January as being 'cool and pleasant' with morning lows around 60 degrees (15 Celsius). With climate change, I fear that even the few weeks of cooler weather in December-January may soon (if not already) be a thing of the past.

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Colombo Murder Mystery

Sao Boonwaat was a diplomat and a younger son of late Kengtung Saopha Sao Kawng Kiao Intaleng. In 1957 he was the Burmese ambassador to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), living in Colombo with his wife Sao Nang Lao Heung aka Shirley Boonwaat. On 15 October 1957 Shirley Boonwaat died. She was immediately cremated. And a few days later Sao Boonwaat left the country and never came back. For weeks Colombo was rocked with news of an alleged murder and cover-up....

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HRH Prince Philip's Visit to Rangoon in 1959

On the Chinese new year 1959, HRH Prince Philip visited Rangoon. This was during General Ne Win's "Caretaker Government". Both General Ne Win and President Mahn Win Maung are in the clip. In the middle of the clip (1.02 - 1:45) you will see the beautiful old Government House (President's House). The demolition of this historic building c.1980 was an terrible act of vandalism, on par with the demolition of the Kengtung Saopha's haw a little more than a decade...

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Soviet Premier's Burma Trip

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev visited Burma as part of a trip around Asia. The country was then under the 'Caretaker' government of General Ne Win. Khrushchev wrote in his memoir that he was very impressed with the welcome he received upon arrival. Premier Khruschev met with then former Prime Minister U Nu, as well as General Ne Win. President Mahn Win Maung hosted a garden party at Government House and Khrushchev attended as the guest of honour. During the visits,...

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Landmark Visit to Burma of David Ben-Gurion,Founder and First Prime Minister of Israel

On 5 December 1961, the founder and first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion made a landmark visit to Burma. Few remember that Burma in the 1950s and early 60s had particularly close relations, including military relations, with Israel. Both countries had achieved independence from the British Empire at the same time, both found themselves immediately at war, and both were governed (initially) by elected socialist governments. Burma was the first country in Asia to recognize the Jewish state (in...

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President Mahn Win Maung in 1961

One of Myanmar’s president without a military background. Not sure the debonair style will make a comeback.

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