Revolutionary New Year

NGAPALI BEACH // On the edge of Thandwe, an important port and the main agglomeration in South Rakhine State, lies Ngapali Beach. The beautiful spot is one of Myanmar’s most popular tourist destinations and gets particularly crowded during the Thingyan holiday. The five-day festival, which marks the beginning of the year in Theravada Buddhist nations, is typically celebrated with feasts, the ritual cleaning of Buddha images and joyous public water fights.

As in neighboring countries, the celebrations were cancelled in 2020 due to Covid-19. This year, the junta downplayed the scale of the pandemic and organized religious ceremonies in an attempt to normalize public life. In the streets of the country, people chose to exchange the party for low-key protests, marching while singing revolutionary songs, holding branches of Eugenia bushes and dousing red paint on pavements, buildings, and signs of government buildings to ‘remember the martyrs who died in the struggle for democracy’.

While some domestic visitors came to enjoy traditional performances on Ngapali Beach, hundreds of refugees who fled unrest in the countryside villages around Thandwe and pro-democracy youths engaged in the ‘Spring Revolution’, got to share the same sea-view. Most protests in the area had stopped since the end of February after a military truck drove into the crowd and dozens of residents were arrested. The township was won by the NLD but is also home to numerous Arakan Army supporters, a revolutionary armed organization advocating for the self-determination of Rakhine State.