February 27th, 2011

MYANMAR/BURMA — I’m puzzled. Has Myanmar become so Westernized that anyone living there would mistake a uni-sex sarong as a woman’s dress? The lede on Robert Horn’s piece for Time makes no sense to me (no one would accuse Jimi Izrael of wearing a dress) but the exploration of astrology’s insidious hold on Myanmar’s leadership certainly does.

From Time:

“It’s yadaya,” said a Rangoon-based astrologer who asked not to be named, referring to Burma’s particular brand of black magic.

Burma has had three rulers during the past half-century and all have been devotees of yadaya. Gen. Ne Win, who ruled from 1962 to 1988 reportedly shot his own reflection in a mirror, on the advice of a fortune teller, to foil a foretold assassination attempt. His obsession with numerology led him to demonetize all bank notes in 1987 so new notes could be printed — all divisible by his lucky number nine. The move wiped out the savings of most Burmese and contributed to an uprising one year later. His successor, Gen. Saw Muang, was replaced after erratic behavior that included a rambling, semi-coherent nationally televised speech brimming with references to magic and astrology. The man who replaced him, Than Shwe, is reported to have seven personal astrologers, several of whom are tasked with focusing solely on Aung San Suu Kyi, according to his biographer Ben Rogers.

Astrology, superstition and black magic are common in Southeast Asia, and Burma’s rulers have rarely made any bones about their beliefs.

Do what you can (without consulting your horoscope) to make this a good morning, Myanmar.


  1. Mary Jo says:

    I think Horn is saying that it was puzzling that the generals were wearing what Burmese residents and exiles consider to be women’s clothing, not unisex sarongs. They think it might be because astrologers have predicted a female will become ruler and they are attempting to trick the fates by dressing as women.

  2. Jeff Hess says:

    Shalom Mary Jo,

    The story has been updated.

    The original version of this article did not include an explanation of the difference between men and women’s sarongs in Burma.

    That explanation, excerpted below, makes all the difference.

    In Burma, both men and women wear sarongs, but the patterns are distinctly different for each. Men wear a type called longyi, while women wear a design called acheik. The generals’ sarongs appeared decidedly acheik. Although some acheik are based on patterns once worn by male royalty — Burma’s last monarch, King Thibaw, was dethroned by the British in 1886…



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