The state military authority is currently preparing to observe the New Year festivities in Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, but Arakanese people have been denied the chance to celebrate the famous Rakhine festival in Sittwe this year, said a town elder.
“The authority has started the construction of many pavilions in front of government buildings and in front of the Vasila sports ground for Burmese style water play, but the authority is not allowing residents to construct the pavilions in the respective wards around Sittwe,” the elder said.
The water festival starts on 13 April but the people will be engaging in the water play from 14 to 16 April.
The elder added, “The authority seems to not want people to celebrate the biggest Arakanese water festival in Sittwe this new year because the authority is afraid untoward incidents such as anti-government protests will break out in Sittwe during the water festival.”
During the 2008 and 2009 new year celebrations, some Arakanese youths participated in anti-government activities by wearing t-shirts saying “No Vote” and “Ven Uttama”. Many of the youths were detained by police in Sittwe but later released on bail.
“During this year’s water festival, such anti-government activities may arise again in Sittwe because this year is very crucial in Burma with the election. So the authority is likely to fear this and bar celebration of the Arakanese water festival in the downtown area of Sittwe,” he said. The authority ordered its government departments and private businesses to construct stages and pavilions in front of Vasali sports ground, which is located on the outskirts of Sittwe some distance from the rest of the city.
In Sittwe, there are plans for 18 pavilions to be constructed by government ministries for this year’s water festival for water play in the Burmese style.
A youth from Maw Late Ward said, “We lost the opportunity to celebrate the Arakanese traditional water festival in Sittwe this year because the authority barred celebration of the water festival in downtown Sittwe. It is difficult for us to participate in the Burmese-style water festival that will be celebrated by the government ministries.”
The traditional Arakanese water festival is different than the Burmese water festival, but the authority does not want to encourage the Arakanese celebrations. It is typical for the authorities to try and substitute the Burmese style of celebrating for the traditional Arakanese water festival in Sittwe.
“The Burmese-style water festival is nice, but I like the Arakanese traditional water festival very much because we have the chance to throw water face to face between groups of women and men in the pavilions. In the Burmese-style, people are throwing water with water pipes from the stage onto the visitors who walk or drive in front,” the youth said.
Narinjara Arakan News