Interview with Dr. Salai Tun Than
February 17, 2007- Washington DC [Chinland Guardian’s Note: Though Imprisoned for one and a half years in a notorious Insein Jail for his strong belief in democracy by the Burmese Junta, Dr. Salai Tun Than continues his campaign to
restore freedom and democracy in Burma. He had served Burma and its people in his entire life. He held many important positions during his services to Burmese people such as an aid member, later as elite member of Burma Independence Army, as a student cadet and later as district commander of Chin Defense Organization (CDO), and as a commanding officer of University Training Corps in Mandalay. During his college years, he had participated in combat against a Communist force near Hmawbi Farm.
Salai Elaisa Vahnie of Chinland Guardian had an opportunity to interview Dr. Salai Tun Than who arrives here to join the celebration of the 59th Chin National Day organized by the Chin Community of USA Washington DC Area as a special guest speaker . A retired Professor talks about his background and Chin people in part I, and his political beliefs, his struggle for democracy, and his mission and vision for Burmese people in part II. Even though he is aged, his persistence as a determined person, his faith as a man of principle, and his hope for democracy in Burma as a man of loving kindness have been once again revealed here as he talks through the interview].
CG: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to interview you. I believe that many people from both outside and inside Burma already knew you as a retired professor Dr. Salai Tun Than. I’m sure Chinland Guardian readers would love to know more about your background and your political careers. I would like to start our interview by asking a little bit about your background. Could you please tell us what is your birth place?
Dr. Salai Tun Than: My birth place is Inbyit Village, Mindon Township, Thayetmyo District, Burma.
CG: Where did you get your education?
Dr. Salai Tun Than: I got my basic education from American Baptist Mission Chin School in Thayetmyo. I passed 6th standard in 1942. From 1942 to 1945, it was during the II World War, I self-employed as a farming cultivator at my birth place. I continued my high school [at that time they called post primary school] at Thayetmyo and passed matriculation in 1947. I went to University of Rangoon as odd-jobs in 1948 and graduated in 1953 from University of Rangoon Mandalay Campus with a B.Sc degree in Agriculture. I worked a few months as entomologist in anti-malaria campaign. From 1953 to 1955 I joined University of Georgia where I got a Master Degree in agronomy. I went there as a State Scholar. I was a president of Foreign Student Association from 1954 to 1955 in University of Georgia. I joined University of Wisconsin Madison Campus in 1955 and got a Ph.D degree in crop nutrition in 1958. I went back home after one month by boat.
I was employed at Yezin Agri University, Yezin, as lecturer on the 19th of 1959. I was promoted to Professor in November 1964.
CG: Now let us move to a slightly different topic. There are plain Chins in Burma. Why we call them as Asho Chin?
Dr. Salai Tun Than: Because we call Chins as Cho, Zo, Asho etc. in different Chin dialects. We all are Chins.
CG: Can you tell us the estimated total population of the current Asho Chins in Burma and which area of Burma they occupied?
Dr. Salai Tun Than: According to the survey in 1881, the Asho tribe of Chin population was 55,000. This was not included the northern part such as Myinhlanmyo, Pakokhu etc. We assumed all Acho Chin population to be tree times larger if we include the northern part also. At that time the whole Burma population was only 5 millions. In other words, our Asho Chin population was 10% of the whole population of Burma. Unfortunately our population stays the same over 100 years. The reason is we were running away from Burmese government. Thus most Chin become Burmans, but they still speak Burmese in Chin accent. All these information can be referenced to a book titled “Customary Law of Chin Tribe” by Thet Phyu. I still have a copy of this. I don’t know if this book is available in Libraries in Burma. I heard that Rangoon University Library does hold this book, but I could not find one there.
The Asho Chins spread in Arakhaine State, Magywe, Arrawady, Peku and Mandalay divisions of Burma.
CG: What is the chance that the current Asho Chins will be gradually assimilated or to put it another way, will they ever be assimilated?
Dr. Salai Tun Than: The people who are Buddhist are likely to be assimilated. But Christians are unlikely to be assimilated.
CG: Some people said that the name of U Pha, the father of Aung San, Burma independent hero is not a Burman name, but an Asho Chin name. Is that true?
Dr. Salai Tun Than: My father told me U Pha is Nam Lang tribe of Chin. U Pha’s wife Daw Suu father was Bo Min Yaung as known to Burmans. But his Chin name was Mang Yang and he belongs to Mang On clan. Daw Suu herself was a Chin, and all their siblings are Chins. And I heard that Aung San himself said “my blood is full of Chin” when he was on his organizing mission.
CG: What does the Chin National Day mean to them? Do they celebrate the Chin National Day?
Dr. Salai Tun Than: They celebrate wherever the Asho Chins are. Because this is a symbol of unity for the Chin people. They celebrate in more of national meanings.
CG: What possible steps and measures, in your opinion, can be taken to increase the level of social and political cooperation among Chins?
Dr. Salai Tun Than: We should have a regular fellowship either in the form of religious gathering or social gathering. We should organize youth festivals comprised of all Chins. We should also investigate our culture how much is similar to one another. We could have another kind of Chin Museum as well as a dictionary that compares and explains similar words of different Chin dialects.
CG: What special message do you want to send to the Chin People Worldwide on this day?
Dr. Salai Tun Than: Don’t lose hope. Be proud that you are Chin. Whatever you do, do it in the name of our Chin so that no Chin will be ashamed of his/her deed.