Myanmar's junta says birth of rare albino elephant means they have right to rule country

White elephants are regarded as a symbol of auspicious and righteous rule.

Yen Zhi Yi | January 05, 2023, 04:44 PM

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The birth of a rare albino elephant has been championed by the military junta of Myanmar as a symbol for their continued political reign, according to AFP.

The male elephant, given the name of "Rattha Nandaka" by junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, was reportedly born in western Rakhine state in 2022.

His name is derived from ancient Pali, meaning "country" and "happiness."

According to The Irrawaddy, junta-controlled media said that the elephant calf's name apparently means “the precious white elephant beloved by the country will bring prosperity and happiness to the nation”.

The elephant calf supposedly possesses seven of the eight standard features for an albino elephant, such as having a "plantain branch-shaped back" and "pearl-coloured eyes", AFP cited experts as saying.

White elephants highly revered

The elephant calf was allegedly patted and sprinkled with fragrant water by generals, their spouses and junta ministers during its naming ceremony in late 2022, The Irrawaddy reported.

Ancient Southeast Asian monarchs have typically regarded white elephants as highly auspicious and a symbol of virtuous political power.

In Myanmar's ancient history, Burmese kings desired to be known as "master of the white elephant", in which the number of white elephants they own was considered a sign of supremacy and national wealth, according to an earlier report by The Irrawaddy.

According to AFP, records also tell of a white elephant inherited by a Burmese monarch in the 1800s apparently being waited on by 30 servants and finely dressed in red studded cloth.

However, the high cost of keeping white elephants in a such lavish manner has also given rise to the contemporary term of a "white elephant" being an expensive, beautiful but useless possession.

The white elephant's fate

Rattha Nandaka will reportedly spend his days in a compound designated for white elephants in Naypyidaw.

Two elephants, which were once regaled by a former military government, have previously been kept inside a compound in Yangon, according to AFP.

Social media users appear not to buy the junta's narrative that the birth of the baby elephant lends legitimacy to their rule. One said the elephant is "now a prisoner" while another noted that it was more grey than white.

The elephant calf will reportedly be featured on a special commemorative stamp as well as gold coin sets specially manufactured for Myanmar's 75th independence day, according to state media cited by AFP.

Raging political crisis

The domestic political crisis in Myanmar is already approaching the end of its second year, without any resolution in sight.

The leader of Myanmar's democratically elected government, Aung San Suu Kyi, was recently sentenced to seven more years in prison by the military government, making her total jail term 33 years.

As the country marked its 75th independence day, the military junta reportedly said that "free and fair elections" would be held, although no specific timeline was given.

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Top images by Anadolu Agency & prime images via Getty Images