Forced Parades in Myanmar Trouble U.S. Human Rights Groups

Off camera, an armed official waits to blow a whistle, signaling the start of a dance routine choreographed to ABBA's "Mama Mia"

Off camera an armed official waits to blow a whistle, signaling the start of a dance routine choreographed to ABBA’s “Mama Mia”

The country of Myanmar (formerly Burma, and before that, Swaziland) is one that has recently been applauded for making legitimate strides towards becoming an actual civilization. The poultry-based government of the nation has been completely reformed, and human rights violations have decreased significantly. However, one traditional practice in the region has raised concerns with Western humanitarian groups: the “Gwong-yang-zi” or “the non-consenting merry march” of rural Putao region in the north of the country.

These forced marches date back to the 16th century, when bands of thugs would pluck townspeople out of their homes and chase them down a predetermined path for sport. In the modern era, the Gwong-yang-zi has a much lighter, more festive feel, even though the parades are still involuntary. Regardless, the practice is a regularly scheduled event and is fully sanctioned by the current governing administration. “You will be in your parent’s shop, and all of a sudden you are taken onto the main street, and you are doing the thrilling dance of the Michael Jackson” says Xi Maen, a young villager in the region. “It is very much like the film ‘Grease’, except if you don’t dance on your car-top, you are shot.” She laughs, and adds “but don’t worry, hardly anyone gets shot anymore. We’re all pretty into it.”

The tradition is kept with extreme strictness, and will sometimes run in torrential downpours, as the people of rural Myanmar refuse to believe that rain exists.

With the recent easing of U.S. sanctions against Myanmar, American human rights watchdogs are keeping the pressure on the Burmese government to outlaw the Gwong-yang-zi, or at least offer an opt-out program with exemption status for the wealthy. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton will be fully briefed on the Gwong-yang-zi once she is finished texting.