Second White Elephant Found
By Ko Cho
May 28, 2002—Another rare white elephant was captured in western Burma's Arakan State in January, according to reports yesterday from the country's state-run press. The capture marks the second white elephant found in the area in less than twelve months. According to wire reports, the most recent white elephant is twenty-five years old and has all the characteristics associated with white elephants—including pearl-colored eyes and light pink skin.
White elephants have been seen as symbols of royalty, power and prosperity throughout Southeast Asia for hundreds of years. Burmese Kings felt an increased sense of power when they possessed a white elephant.
As Burma becomes embroiled in another border dispute with Thailand some Burmese feel the regime is attempting to use the elephant as a display of its power.
"[Burma's military government] showed the first white elephant last year during the border crisis with Thailand," says an editor from Rangoon. "They know the Thais love white elephants and that they respect people who possess them."
Others feel the elephant is a pretext for war between the two countries, citing the story of King Bayin Naung, who ruled Burma from 1550-1581. The former king sent a request to the King of Siam asking for one of the king's white elephants, according to Shway Yoe’s book "The Burman", which was first printed in 1882. After the King of Siam refused Bayin Naung requests, Bayin Naung reportedly waited for an opportunity to break off diplomatic relations before invading present day Thailand.
"People who still believe in the monarchy believe in white elephants," says Ko Thar Nyunt Oo, a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions' Foreign Affairs Committee. "The junta tries to use the white elephant as a sign of coming prosperity for the people of Burma, but I think the white elephant just has damaged skin."
The last white elephant was found late last year and in the same area that the second one was found. The first is being kept at Minn Dhama hill, outside of Rangoon, where one of the Buddha’s teeth is believed to be stored.
If an elephant's skin turns red after having water poured on it, they are declared to be a rare white elephant but if the skin becomes darker, they are simply thought to be normal elephants.