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Journal Kyaw Ma Ma Lay: Mone Ywe Mahu (Not Out of Hate)

Way Way is an educated Burmese woman, living in Moulmeingyun, in the Irriwady delta. She lives with her father, who is a rice dealer. Way Way helps him by doing the accounts and dealing with the farmers. She is happy doing this work. Her mother, however, had not been happy being married and the mother of three children. She was very religious and spent much of her time in religious activities. One day, she went to a convent for a retreat and never came back. Way Way’s father continued to support her, even though he missed her. She writes to Way Way but mainly instructing her in religious matters. Way Way has an older sister, Hta Hta, who is married, and an older brother, Ko Nay U. He is also in the rice business but he is very much against British colonialism and is involved in various activities opposed to this colonialism. He had lived next door to his father and sister but had moved out when the British rice brokers, Bullock Brothers, had announced that they were sending a new agent to the town and needed somewhere for him to live. The best house was the one occupied by Ko Nay U so he was given that. The novel starts just prior to his arrival.

To Way Way’s surprise, the new arrival, U Saw Han is Burmese. However, Way Way soon discovers that, though he is Burmese, he is highly westernised. He dresses in Western style, speaks Burmese badly, eats Western food and adopts Western behaviour. However, he is polite and friendly and Way Way accepts his (to her) strange ways. Gradually, he gets to know Way Way and her family and is very solicitous of them. He invites them to dinner (they are completely baffled by the cutlery and food) and seems very concerned about Way Way. Meanwhile, Way Way’s father seems to be getting unwell and coughing up blood. He clearly has tuberculosis. Her father starts needing more rest and Way Way takes over much of the business, much to U Saw Han’s surprise. However, when Hta Hta comes to stay, to help look after her father, she sees U Saw Han and Way Way kissing in the road, late at night. Very soon they are married.

Way Way thinks that she loves U Saw Han but soon finds her way of life changing. It is U Saw Han, not out of hate as the title of the book has it but out of love and concern, who soon makes every decision for her. He decides what she is to wear, what and when to eat and what to do. She accepts it but clearly does not like it. She dislikes Western food and loves Burmese food but U Saw Than despises Burmese food, so she has to eat Western food. He is not cruel, just very controlling. When she gets ill, U Saw Han wants her to be treated with Western medicine and despises the traditional Burmese medicine she knows and trusts. When her father gets very ill, he refuses to let her go to him (he is now with Hta Hta in Rangoon), feeling that she is too weak to travel. She is devastated when he dies the next day and hurries off to his funeral, regretting her last chance to see him. Indeed, she is so upset that she stays longer, despite U Saw Han urgent entreaties to return. She even goes and visits her mother and considers becoming a nun herself.

U Saw Han is certainly not a bad man but this is both a feminist novel as well as a novel extolling things Burmese over things Western (specifically English). Way Way (and, presumably, her creator) much prefer Burmese food and Burmese medicine to Western food and Western medicine. Many people from that part of the world are lactose intolerant as dairy products are not a traditional part of their diet. When U Saw Han forces Way Way to drink milk when she gets ill, she vomits it up. On several occasions we see her smelling and yearning for traditional Burmese food and hating bland Western food. But we also see the anti-colonial agitation, specifically through Ko Nay U, who wears traditional Burmese dress and is highly critical of the colonial power but also with frequent references to strikes and demonstrations. For most Anglophone readers, their main introduction to Burma in literature will be through George Orwell‘s Burmese Days. This novel gives a very different and very interesting perspective.

Publishing history

First published in Burmese 1959 byMranʻ mā huiṅʻ haṃ bhā sā praññʻ Cā pe ʼa saṅʻ”
First English translation in 1991 by Ohio University Center for International Studies