Update: 2013-02-02 04:00 AM +0630




by Sein Tu, Ph.D., Professor and Head (retd.), Department of Psychology, University of Mandalay
http://www.myanmar.gov.mm/Perspective/persp2004/4-2004/tig.htm 080828

Downloaded and edited by U Kyaw Tun, M.S. (I.P.S.T., U.S.A.). Not for sale. Prepared for students of TIL Computing and Language Center, Yangon, MYANMAR.

UKT: Dr. Sein Tu is a friend of mine. He was one of my associates in the University of Mandalay in the early 1970s.

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Were-tigers and Nat-tigers
In this article we will discuss traditional Myanmar beliefs regarding the nature of were-tigers.
Tamanthi Wild-life Sanctuary

UKT notes
Mingalé Nat

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Were-Tigers and Spirit (Nat) Tigers

UKT: The tiger is a fascinating animal to the Burmese-Myanmars and appears under at least three headings in the local lore:
1. Tiger representing the Monday-Planet, on the Planet-post situated in the East in every Burmese-Myanmar pagoda.
2. Tiger-familiar {si:tau-kya:} in local nat lore
3. Thamankya {þa.mûn:kya:} or were-tiger. See MMDict320 for definition.
   This paper by Dr. Sein Tu is on Thamankya, a living belief in the village of Tamanthi.

Were-tigers should be differentiated from spirit tigers [UKT: {si:tau-kya:}] that are familiars under the control or behest of Nats {nat} or supernatural beings that make their wishes known through spirit functionaries or shamans (nat-htein {nat-htaim:} or nat-kadaw {nat-ka.tau}). Spirit tigers have been closely associated with Nats since pre-Buddhist times. In animistic Spirit Centres such as Popa Taungkalat where the 37 major Animistic Spirits or Nats of the Myanmar Animistic pantheon are displayed and worshiped, a Nat is depicted riding a tiger. Nats are believed to be able to make their tiger familiars do their bidding. One famous example is the killing of Me U’' {mèý-U.}, a young married woman who remained faithful to her husband and spurned the love of the Mingalay Nat {ming:ka.lé:}; this so incensed the Nat that it caused her to be carried off and eaten by a tiger.

The relationship between the tiger and the Nat is believed to be a symbiotic one. When the Animistic Spirit feels that it has been affronted in some way it sends the tiger to take revenge. For example in the summer of 1963 a village in Kyaukse District decided to ignore the injunction of the Guardian Spirit of the Village (the Ywar Saun’nat  {rwa-saung. nat}) against the holding of anyeint theatrical performances inside the village and went ahead with arrangements to hold one anyway. Witnesses say that on the night of the proceedings, a huge tigress appeared as if from nowhere and leapt onto the stage, putting an immediate end to the show, that had to be discontinued due to the lack of an audience.

In return for doing the bidding of the Nat Spirits, the tigers are believed to be under their protection, especially that of the Guardian Spirit of the Forest (taw:saun’nat {tau:saung. nat}), and the person who wishes to hunt a tiger has to present offertories to the spirits and undertake the prescribed ritual called “taw:taung:gyin: {tau:taung:hkring:}” or “petitioning the Forest,” to ask the nat’s permission for the tiger to be killed.

The attitude of Bamar [Burmese-Myanmar] hunters toward tigers and their masters is a curious and perhaps a manipulative one. They acknowledge that tigers have a compact with animistic spirits, but by the same token feel that they can make use of this relationship to call up a tiger; in other words the spirit can be deliberately provoked by engaging in activities that will arouse its anger and cause it to send a tiger to punish them, thereby delivering it into their hands. Accordingly, hunters who come upon the remains of a person killed by a man-eater will quickly build a machan or shooting platform in a nearby tree and summon the tiger by provoking its nat-spirit. This they do by dressing the corpse in a htamein or woman’s skirt even if the victim be a male, and putting it on upside down. A woman’s blouse is also put on the torso front-to-back, thana’-kha:, a cream obtained from the fragrant bark of a tree, is applied to its face, and its hair is properly combed and bedecked with flowers. A coin is then placed in its mouth and lighted candles are placed at its head and feet.

Such odd and unnatural activities are supposed to anger the nat and cause it to send the tiger to punish those involved, ensuring the return of the man-eater to the scene, sometimes so quickly that the hunters have barely time to complete their handiwork and climb a tree to get out of harm’s way before it arrives.

Were-tigers, in sharp contrast, are humans who possess the ability to voluntarily change their physical shape or form and assume the semblance of a tiger together with its physical attributes and capabilities. They are their own masters and change shape of their own volition.

There is some evidence, however, of occasional compulsion from external, adventitious factors. Thus one informant relates how once, when she was passing through a forested area with a companion, the latter urgently requested her to climb a tree to safety as she felt a crisis coming on. Once she was safely out of reach in the fork of a tree, the friend hurriedly undressed, performed a few perfunctory rolls on the ground and became transformed into a were-tigress.

The nature of were-tigers may be outlined as follows:

• Were-tiger humans or WT-humans are were-tigers in their human form. They are believed to live in endogamous communities of their own in remote jungle areas and have as little to do as possible with their neighbors.

• WT-humans have been reported to occasionally live in a village inhabited by normal folk.

• The Game Ranger of Tamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary reports one instance of a family of WT-humans who occupied a small hut located some distance from the village of Tamanthi, Sagaing Division.

• WT-humans who live together with real humans in human village may or may not reveal their nature to the other villagers. U Hla Thein describes how a woman villager used to disappear for a few hours every afternoon and return with jungle fowl, hares and other small rodents. When a friend of hers’ grew suspicious and demanded to know the reason for her periodic absences she admitted that she was a were-tigress, swore the friend to secrecy and took her into the jungle to witness for herself her transformation into a tigress.

• Were-tigers tend to be reclusive and perhaps even secretive but this is not indicative of any hostility towards outsiders, but rather of a desire to protect their own group and preserve their identity and way of life.

• Were-tiger humans living in ordinary villages do not usually disclose their true natures to humans, but are not compulsively secretive or reticent about them. Thus (Yangon University Prof. Daw Khin Aye Win’s father) U Po Sa’s boatman cheerfully admitted to his master that he was a were-tiger, as did the were-tigress who let her friend in on her secret when taxed with her frequent absences from their village.

• A WT-human community constitutes an endogamous group, and any contact with outsiders, especially on the part of their young women, is discouraged. However when a village girl falls in love with an outsider and marries him, no punitive action is taken or contemplated towards them. Rather, the man is pressured into severing his ties with the outside world and into becoming a member of their community.

• Cases of villagers from were-tiger villages (e.g.Tamanthi) moving out and marrying people of neighboring villages have been reported by the Game Ranger from Tamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary who himself lives in Tamanthi Village.

• WT-humans may work at human occupations. (e.g.U Po Saw’s boatman.)

• WT-human may be of either sex, accounts of female WT-humans being reported as frequently as of males.

• Were-tigers are reported to have five digits on their pads (like human palms and fingers), unlike ordinary tigers that have only four.

• Were-tiger villages are believed to know by some extra-sensory means when one of their number has been killed in his tiger incarnation. Thus when a hunter shot and killed a tiger and returned to the were-tiger village he was met on its outskirts by a group of villagers who were weeping and bewailing the death of a much revered village elder. This was well in advance of any receipt of the news through ordinary channels, the hunter having come straight to the village from the site of the kill. (This invites the intriguing, if rather fanciful speculation that individual were-tiger spirits perhaps form constituent parts of a collective consciousness along the lines of J.C Jung’s conception of a Collective Racial Unconscious.)

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Tamanthi Wild-life Sanctuary

by Dr. Sein Tu http://www.myanmar.gov.mm/Perspective/persp2002/6-2002/tam.htm 080830

• The village of Tamanthi, and its clense surrounding forests has always been famous for its profusion of wild animals and birds. At one time it was home to tigers, elephant, gaur (Asiatic bison), leopards, serow, (Italics please) bear, sumatran rhinoceroses (Didermocherus Sumatrensis) and Javan rhinocheroses (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and was a favourite destination fo big game hunters and poachers.

Tamanth was also notorious as the home-base of Were-tigers the Myanmar equivalent of the European were-wolf. These were reputed to be creatures, half human and half tiger, that assumed the form of tigers at dusk to hunt for feral and human prey all night long and return to the village only at dawn to revert to their human shape and resume their daily activities.

• However they are also believed to be able to change their form at will and many tales are related around campfires in the jungles of were-tigers assuming the shape of a pretty girl in the day-time to tempt a hunter waiting up in his machan (hunting platform) on a tree to descend to the ground, and when he does so turns again into a ravening tiger and devours him.

• Other hair-raising accounts regarding were-tigers circulate freely around jungle villages and urban centres including Yangon. But Tamanthi tigers are shrouded in secrecy and anyway form the subject of another story.

• The Tamanthi wildlife Sanctuary was established on 11 April 1974. It is located on the eastern bank of the Chindwin River, the largest artery in Northwestern Myanmar, between latitudes 25º 26' and 95º 37'. It forms part of Khamti and Homalin Townships, Khamti District, Sagaing Division and lies between they Uyu and Chindwin Rivers. With a total area of 830.40 square miles it is the second largest wildlife sanctuary in the country. Six hundred square miles of the Sanctuary fall under Khamti Township administrative jurisdiction while the rest are administered by Homalin Township.

Tamanthi can be reached by road, air and river. Most Myanmar travellers elect to take the last mentioned route. However Homalin lies (327) miles north of Monywa and even under the best conditions (i.e. during the rainy season) takes 8 days travel to reach one's destination, a luxury which few tourists can ill afford in view of their visa time restrictions. During the summer months silting from the Chindwin creates shoals and sandbanks that may appreciably delay the passage of the Passenger boats and postpone their arrival at journey's end by days, if not weeks.

• A more viable alternative is to travel from Yangon to Khamti by air on one of the flights available 3 times a week. Tamanthi village is located (70) miles down-river and can be reached by motor boat in a day's trip.

• The motor route is not to recommended since Homalin is (338) miles distant - from Monywa and the road is unpaved for the most part and often blocked by mud-slides during the rains.

• The sanctuery's limits are delimited by natural boundaries. The boundaries of the Tamanthi wildlife sanctuary is demarcated on the west by the Chindwin River, the Uyu River on the south-east, the Nant-Hpee-Linn Creek on the north, the Pati Mountain Range, the Ta-mein mountain range and the Nwe-ta-mein mountain range on the east and the Chay-kun and Nann-kwe-taing creeks on the south. The eastern mountain ranges are 1000 to 2000 feet high while the topugraphy within the boundaries is characterized by hills 600 to 800 feet high, lakes and pools. The streams from this area all flow into the Chindwin River from the east and provide a year-round flow of water.

Tamanthi is blessed with a cool climate and abundant rainfall due to its wide-spread forest cover. The interior of the Sanctuary, constituting 90% of its total area, is covered with verdant evergreen tropical forests, and only on its surrounding slopes are found mixed deciduous forests that contain teak and other valuable species.

• The low-lying central portion contains grasslands, ponds, springs, salt licks and a wide variety of plants, shrubs, fruit and other edible floral species that make the sanctuary an ideal habitat for wildlife.

• This has resulted in a profusion of a wide variety of wildlife species including elephants, gaur, tigers, leopards, clouded leopards, bears, sambhur, serow etc. within its boundaries.

• Unlike other wildlife sanctuaries within the country the Tamanthi forests have largely esaped their degradation and denudation and have for the most part preserved its dense forest cover and verdant undergrowth.

• Poaching is presents, though not ranipant. The real threats to the ecology of the area are the intrusion of humans, not in the setting-up of human settlements and clearing of forests for cultivation as is common in both protected and unprotected forests elsewhere, but in other forms of human intrusions.

• These have taken place in three phases. The first occurred around 1965 when people invaded sanctuary grounds in search of Akyaw or eaglewood trees which they chopped down to get at its valuable fragrant wood.

• The second was the Yamahta cane period which began round about 1975 when rattan furniture and furnishings came into vogue, largely fueled by foreign buyers. This trend has continued until the present time and shows no signs of abating soon.

• The third and most damaging phase to the natural environment is that of gold extraction. The discovery of gold on the banks of the Uyu Rivery has led to a gold rush into the area. Gold panners, who pan for gold manually, are bad enough, but other more ambitions and greedy malefactors have presumptiously + brazenly set up machinery within the Sancturary grounds itself to dredge for the gold and pump water onto the banks of the Uyu river and other streams to slvice out the gold bearing strata.

• This causes irretrievable damage to the environment, washing away the earth beneath trees and uprooting them, often collapsing them into the river and causing them to block the free flow of water downstream and impeding the passage of boats. The sediment builds up into shoals and shallows, imparts a pinkish hue to the water and pollutes it with mereuric oxide and desiel oil residues that villages downstream have to use for drinking and household purposes.

• Agriculture in these villages has died out because crops refuse to grow when irrigated with water containg such toxic wastes. Fish stocks are also becoming rapidly depleted, causing untold hardship to the local villagers in their efforts to earn a living.

• The situation is indeed serious in view of the fact that the lower stretches of the Chindwin River, one of the greatest arteries of the nation, upon whom depend the towns of Monywa, Homalin, Hpaung-Byin and Salingyi for their water supply, are in grave danger of pollution, sedimentation and silting.

• The people in the Tamanthi area have little or no interest in hunting and villagers who engage in hunting for a living are few and far between. However wildlife whun the presence of human beings and the polluted condition of the habitat has led them to forsake the area in search of greener pastures.

• This probably accounts in part for the paveity of wildlife species within the Sanctuary documented by the National Tiger Survey Team whose latest estimates (1999-2002) range from only 6-10 tigers, 25-30 elephants, 6 to 8 leopards, 150-200 gaur (Asiatic bison), 5-8 clouded leopards, 50-60 Serow (goat antelope), 50-60 dhole or wild dogs, 80-100 bears, 60-7- white winged wood duck that is becoming rare, and 10-15 Peacock remaining within the Sanctuary. Both Javan and Sumatran rhinocerusesare absent and thought to have been totally extirpated, as are the Tsaing (wild ox) or banteng.

• The Forestry Department initiated wildlife conservation measures in 1994, but there are only 24 permanent members on the staff, which is too few to effectively patrol a vast area of 830.40 square miles. This is further compounded by the lack of communications equipment and transport facilities due to financial constraints.

• Urgent aid assistance from international donors, NGO's and donor agencies are required to alleviate the degradation and fragmentation of the Tamanthi forests. The wildlife conservation Society (WCS) is actively engaged in promoting remedial measures but a joint-effort of aid-agencies and international wildlife protection organizations is needed to halt and (hopefully) reverse the deteriation in the natural environment.


• The author wishes to express his thanks to U Saw Tun Khaing of the WCS for providing the information presented in this article.


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UKT notes


{ming:ka.lé:} literally meaning the "young prince" is the title loving conferred on {rhwé-hpyiñ:lé:} by his worshippers. He was the younger brother of {rhwé-hpyiñ:kri:}, and the son of {byat-ta.} who was executed by Anawrahta for being lapse in discharge of duty. Anawrahta in a gesture of reconciliation and appeasement to the spirit of {byat-ta.} was said to have adopted the two boys. Though the two brothers served the king well in his campaign against the Chinese governor of Yunan (?) became uncontrollable and were executed. After becoming nats, they were given the lordship of Taungbyone village. Even after being punished with capital punishment, it appears that at least {ming:ka.lé:} continued in criminal activities such as the murder of {mèý-U.}.

It is reported by his devotees that though {ming:ka.lé:} still has a weakness for married women, he rewarded his devotees well. I had always asked "What should a woman in the situation of {mèý-U.} do?" The answer given is: the married woman has to "divorce" (on nat term, not on human term), and "marry" the Nat, but continues to keep her human husband treating him as a "servant" (again, not on human term) and enjoy all the benefits bestowed by the Nat. Then the woman becomes the lady-of-the-nat or nat-kadaw {nat-ka.tau}. Many nat-kadaw served the Myanmar community (Buddhists, as well as Christians and Muslims) as "sooth-sayers", relying on their Nat-husband to foretell the future of the enquirer. I have met many nat-kadaws who do serve the enquirer beneficially by offering good and sensible advice without accepting any fee except to keep the offertory {kän-tau.pwè:} consisting of a coconut and two bunches of bananas.

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