NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar — Despite being a pariah on the world stage and fiercely opposed to its rule at home, Myanmar’s junta has found cause for optimism — the birth of a rare albino elephant.
Since seizing power, the junta has crushed pro-democracy protests, jailed ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and been accused of war crimes to quell dissent.
But the birth of the elephant – milky gray rather than white – in western Rahkine state last year is being portrayed as accidental by the junta-controlled media.
Ancient rulers considered white elephants extremely auspicious, and their appearance was seen as a symbol of righteous political power.
The pale pachyderm will appear on a commemorative stamp to be released this week to mark the 75th anniversary of Myanmar’s independence from Britain, state media said on Tuesday.
A set of gold commemorative coins with the image of the animal is already being cast to commemorate the occasion, another report said.
The Tusker-Tot’s most high-profile engagement to date was a meeting with junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in October, when the senior general named him at a televised ceremony.
“Rattha Nandaka” comes from the ancient Pali words for “land” and “luck”.
To bolster the credibility of his newfound omen, state media have insisted the animal has a near-pristine pedigree.
According to the experts cited, it possesses seven of the eight standard features for an albino elephant, including “pearl-colored eyes” and a “plantain branch-shaped back.”
“The Forces of Nature”
In Myanmar, where astrological horoscopes are drawn up at birth and fortune tellers are consulted for both daily and political decisions, the enthusiasm for white elephants dates back hundreds of years.
Traditional chronicles tell of kings in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar – then known as Burma – fighting each other to capture beasts from rivals.
The ruinous expense of keeping them in a suitably lavish style gave rise to the modern expression in which a “white elephant” is a useless if beautiful possession.
A creature inherited by a 19th-century Burmese king was attended to by thirty servants and dressed in a “fine red cloth richly set with rubies and diamonds,” according to a visiting British official.
The king who had usurped his brother “would gladly welcome the capture of a true white elephant in his day as an assent of the forces of nature to his own legitimate kingship,” the envoy added.
But the fate of the creatures is tied to the ruler under which they were captured.
Two elephants once feted by a former junta are now cooped up in a damp, remote compound in the commercial heart of Yangon, where they receive few visitors.
“Rattha Nandaka” will spend his days in a special enclosure for white elephants in the military-created capital of Naypyidaw.
But with parts of the country still devastated by fighting and the junta widely vilified, his birth was met with skepticism and public contempt.
“It seems they forgot to put sunscreen on,” one social media user wrote of the baby elephant’s appearance, which is more gray than an albino.
“Now it’s black.”
Black or white, another wrote, the baby was “a prisoner now”.