5: Marriage

Daw Sein and her husband, the Police Inspector, met the steamer and informed Thomas Keely that U So Ya had given a tentative consent, which could either be confirmed or withdrawn according to the outcome of interviews between him and Ma Nyun's parents. At any other time such an interview would have been an embarrassment to Tom, but now that the glimmer of hope had begun to kindle the encounter was doubly welcome. His eyes shone and he was ready to set forth at once. He was told however, that the meeting would not be till 9 o'clock the next morning and that he would have to exercise restraint and be patient. They explained that that particular time and day had been chosen by the astrologer as the most propitious for all parties. Tom was longing to catch sight of Ma Nyun within minutes of the steamer tying up and he cursed the astrologer many times in the course of the night,

Next morning when the Taikthugyi and Tom me, the two took to each other against all odds of such an outcome. Moreover, Daw Nu liked what she saw of him. He was asked the usual questions by parents considering a proposal of marriage in Burma: Where was he born? Who and what was his father? Where were his parents now? How many brothers and sisters did he have? What about uncles and aunts and so on, Of course they already knew he was a Government Official quite able to support their daughter comfortably, U So Ya was glad her daughter was marrying the son of a soldier, Hadn't she come from a long line of leaders and warriors? They sympathised with Tom when they heard that his father had died when he was only two and his mother when he was only seven years old. It did not escape U So Ya's notice that Tom had worked his way up to the present position in spite of having been orphaned at such a tender age. This was no slacker. He had no brothers and only one sister. Ma Nyun, though present, remained silent throughout. This however did not prevent her eyes from speaking for her. As for Tom, the way his eyes remained riveted on Ma Nyun's face, made his appear to be answering her questions rather than those put by her parents,

There were several more meetings between Ma Nyun and Tom in Daw Nu's presence with Daw Sein ever ready to interpret. Finally arrangements for the marriage were made and the date fixed. The Deputy Commissioner issued a public notice to the intention of Thomas Harris Keely and Ma Nyun, daughter of U So Ya, of Massein, to marry on the 25th May 1902 under the provisions of the Christian Marriage Act. U So Ya, Daw Nu, Ma Nyun and her sisters Ma Hla and Ma Mya reached Monywa ten days before the fixed date. They were warmly welcomed by U San Ya and Daw Khin and their son Maung Kyaw, who though only I5 could not take his eyes off Ma Mya, just 13. Their host and hostess took the Massein party everywhere, shops, bazaars, monasteries, pagodas, even the railway station where they saw a railway train for the first time. What a splendid time they had,

The Deputy Commissioner's room in the large long timber building housing the District Offices had not seen so many pretty girls decked out in jewellery and finery as when Ma Nyun and her sisters arrived. Ma Nyun wore a fine thin, white, short muslin jacket over a white bodice and a jade green silk longyi with its usual black band on top. Over her jacket she wore a long pink stole made of finest gossamer silk. Her thick black hair was wrapped round and round on her head to make a neat pile about five inches high by seven inches in diameter, with a diamond studded comb at its base. She also wore small diamond earrings, several thin gold bracelets, a pair of gold anklets and green velvet Burmese slippers. U So Ya wore the customary long passo of thick pink silk, similar in length and width to the Indian dhoti but worn somewhat differently. Over this he wore a thick cream silk short jacket. On his head a pink thin silk gaungbaung (turban) to wrap round the top knot of hair, it being customary for older men to wear their hair long in those days. The thong type of slipper with the thong separating the big and second toe was his leather footwear. He also wore the silver scabbard and silver handled sword of honour that he had inherited with his past to make him look the man of substance and authority he was. Tom and Dick, who had been awaiting the arrival of the bridal party, were vastly impressed by the beauty of the girls, but after the first general glance, Tom could not take his eyes away from the face of his bride. She was far, far more beautiful than he had ever seen her.

Although the ceremony was carried out by the Deputy Commissioner in English as well as Burmese, it did not take long. Tom's hand trembled as he placed the wedding ring, holding his bride's fingers and firm hand for the first time. Ma Nyun looked up, gazed into his face and blushed, a faint tinge of pink colouring the ivory. Then the register was signed, witnessed and it was all over, Since her marriage had given her a higher status the bride would now be known as Daw Nyun to the Burmese and not Mrs, Keely, as a Burmese woman does not change her name on marriage. People would refer to her as Bogadaw (wife of an Englishman) Daw Nyun to differentiate her from other Daw Nyuns,

Hand in Hand the bride and groom left the room, followed by the others carriages belonging to the two doctors, dogcarts and pony-carts had been borrowed or hired for the party which proceeded to Dick Chapman's house where the reception was being held. Champagne had been provided and U So Ya who had been a heavy drinker when much younger enjoyed several glasses of it. Ma Nu and the girls, however, were teetotallers as befitting good Buddhists and so were provided with tea. They made up for the champagne by taking second helpings of the wedding cake that had come up from Mandalay. As most of Tom's friends and wedding guests spoke Burmese well there were no awkward situations. The reception was a great success with U So Ya chatting to all and sundry, Dick Chapman taking special care of Daw Nu and her two girls while Tom took his bride round the room to introduce her and show her off. The bride and groom then left for Tom's bachelor home to stay for a few hours, to change into everyday garments, have a meal before going on board the steamer due to leave at first light,

The trip right up to Homalin and back to Massein would be their honeymoon There was no happier person than Tom in the whole of the Chindwin. The shy bride would have her first taste of the English way of life in the first class cabin and dining saloon of the steamer. It was most fortunate for her that no one else was travelling first class on that trip to witness her initiation into eating several courses in one meal with different articles of cutlery instead of with the fingers as she bad been used to. In the event it proved neither awkward nor painful since Daw Nyun was most observant, very intelligent and a quick learner. Besides, the Captain of the steamer who spoke Burmese well and shared their meals was kindness itself to the bride, whose beauty he had fallen for. He was able to help in many ways by being able to explain matters strange to the eastern bride. Everything went well and smoothly for the honeymooners along that long stretch of waterway with its ever-changing scenic beauty ending with a marvellous view of the distant snow covered perfect cone of Scaramati mountain, seemingly rising out of the river many miles away. To the bride with nine centuries of inherited Buddhist belief in Karma (fate) as background, this new sharing of life would be an extension of having shared lives in past existences, both spirits or souls bound together for good or ill. To the initial attraction had been added liking and now wedded love would weld her to him as no church or civil marriage could ensure. Belonging to one of the most emancipated of women in the world, Daw Nyun, as a Burmese wife, would share as an equal partner with her husband. If so inclined, she too would work and earn and do well, since it is a well known fact that the Burmese woman has a better head for business than the Burman, who generally turns over his salary, wages or earnings to his wife to manage the family finances. Tom would soon come to realise that he had as much to learn and adapt to, as his much loved bride.

During the fortnight or so before the marriage, Ma Nyun and Tom had had discussions with the help of Daw Sein as to where the couple would live after the honeymoon. It was decided that since Tom would be keeping his headquarters at Massein for some time, a small house should be built in U So Ya's large compound, where the couple could live instead of in the tented camp. With regard to his tours, Ma Nyun had insisted that she accompany him as long as she was fit, the reason being that she was jungle-bred. She could thus oops much better than Tom, This arrangement pleased everyone. Tom would have his wife with him; the parents would have their daughter close to them when they returned from tour. With this in mind, Tall had ordered jodhpurs, jackets, shirts, shoes and socks for Ma Nyun from a firm in Mandalay. The first time out on ponies Tom was much surprised and very happy to find that his wife was a good horsewoman. He had not known that she had had the run of her father's stable for some years. Each tour would last for a month or six weeks, with one or two changes of jungle camps. Most of the work being through virgin jungle there were many encounters with wild animals. One day while both were on ponies a hundred yards apart, with Daw Nyun bringing up the rear, a huge tiger calmly strolled across the path half way between them. Needless to say Daw Nyun pulled up sharply and sat round-eyed and rigid only to gallop to her husband as soon as the animal had disappeared, After that she never lagged far behind,

Tom too learned much in this period. One day Tom's group was on top of a small hill with a clear view of a mile or so of the telegraph line that had been erected that day. Tom and Ma Nyun were seated at the entrance of their tent in deck chairs noting the newly strung copper wires gleaming gold in the light of the full moon, when they observed a large dark patchy shadow obscure the clearing along the telegraph line. It turned out to be a herd of elephants crossing the clearing from one side of the jungle to the other. A moment or two later they could see a young elephant leave the herd, put his trunk round the telegraph pole and pull. This having failed, he used his head and weight to push down the pole, still without success, At this point, a huge tusker shouldered the young bull aside, put his trunk round the pole and yanked with all his might. He then used his head with no effect since cross stays had been bolted on to the bottom of the poles then buried deep. The herd then moved away to the satisfaction and amusement of the watchers. Much to their surprise however they saw the herd return some little time later, each animal emptying its trunk-full of water at the base of the pole, As the big tusker still made no impression, the herd left again to bring more water. This time the tusker used his head working round the pole till he had loosened it. Then with a mighty pull he tugged up the pole and dragged it away. Some ten poles were treated in the same way and by the time the herd left, there was a lovely tangle of copper wires and telegraph poles. The next day, Tom took out his maps and notebook to search many miles to find a line that would avoid elephant trails.

On return from one of these tours, Tom and Ma Nyun found that Daw Nu had given birth to a girl, the son and heir to the Taikthugyi having been born the year before. The girl was named Ma Su while the boy was always known as Po So although he had been given a long name to accord with favourable aspects of the signs of the zodiac at the time of his birth,

A few weeks later, Daw Nyun had to give up touring with Tom as she was big with child. She lived in the new house that had been built for them with Ma Hla, her younger sister for company. When her time drew near, however, she moved into the parental home. My father was in the dreaded Kabaw valley contending with Malaria, mosquitoes, leaches, sandflies and the non-arrival of stores and equipment, when at Massein I entered the world. I did so with such a loud cry that neighbours rushed in to see if an ogre or Balu had been born. The explosive cry had been building up during the few seconds it had taken the midwife to discover and remove the caul from my face, The great event took place on the 13th of March 1904, a Sunday,

To regulate her humours, My mother was dosed with a strong suspension of turmeric powder in water within minutes of my birth. A fire of hardwood logs was already alight in a giant "saucer" of glazed earthenware, burning merrily and providing more than sufficient heat to keep the young mother from catching a chill. Once the room was really warm, the patient was smeared from neck to toe with a paste of turmeric to ensure retention of body heat and to destroy any source of infection, It would be 72 hours before the yellow paste was removed.

Meanwhile, U So Ya had noted the exact time of hearing my yell and called for a freshly out piece of palm leaf. On this he inscribed with a steel stylus, the time, the day, the date, the Burmese month and year of my birth and the name of Aung Gyaw. This name being in keeping with the day on which I was born: names being given according to the alphabet or alphabets astrologically pertaining to that particular day.

One of the more exciting occasions in the life at Massein had to do with the annual visit of U Pon Na, an elderly Manipuri astrologer. U Pon Na's father had been an astrologer in the Burmese Court where of necessity he had to be very good at fortune telling or soothsaying, whichever suited the occasion. Such small palmscripts as that inscribed by U So Ya would be handed over to the zodiac at the time of the birth and make a record of the same on larger palm leaves stitched together. One side would contain details of the time, the day, the date etc, of the birth, an astrologically correct name and an invocation for the person concerned to live to the age of 120 years. On the other side there would be a circle with the position of the signs of the zodiac and two sets of tables, one on each side of the circle. These tables were to be consulted and used by any astrologer at any time thereafter when asked to tell the fortune of the owner at the horoscope. When U Pon Na came over with my horoscope, be predicted that I would end up as a high Government Officer provided I survived various accidents and illnesses up to my 12th birthday. U So Ya took the opportunity of this visit to produce Po So's horoscope made two years earlier for a forecast. U Pon Na said Po So would become a leader of men, well thought of, with many followers and could make a name for himself, To the old clan chief this was heady stuff.

Very little of consequence is planned or started until an astrologer has been consulted. The horoscope or horoscopes would be produced in times of illness, accident, misfortune or when some business deal is being considered. They were consulted not only to know the likely outcome, but for advice on what should be done to avert danger, disaster, an unsuitable association or marriage, or to ensure a safe journey when danger is seen to be threatening. Thus when Po So was sweet on a girl with no background and quite unsuitable, and with the danger of his eloping with her, the astrologer was consulted. He advised Daw Nu to purchase a young hen and present it to Po So as his very own pet to feed, keep and look after. Within ten days, the affair with the girl was over. In the case of a serious illness, the astrologer has been known to suggest the purchase of live fish equal in number to the patient's age plus one to be released in the nearest lake or river. By saving the lives of the fish, his own life would be saved. Or the astrologer might suggest the construction of a bridge across a stream to enable foot passengers to cross dry shod, an act of merit which would enable the patient to cross his stream of illness. Each suggestion or recipe would be tailor made to placate evil influences and strengthen the good influences of the stars.