Saw Durmay (Po Min) in Myanmar

Elephants at Saw Durmay (Po Min)

CollectionKept totally 4, 0 present (0,0,0), 0 births, 3 relocated, 1 deaths
LocationToungoo, Myanmar
Type: private



Dr. Saw Durmay (Po Min) was president of loyal Karen association of Burma-India, and desendant of Karen chief priest.

He caught the elephant Pawa at the end of the great war in november 1919.

Among these may be mentioned the great Po Pike San or Po Hsan Ye, "Bishop" Pelleko or Klebopa, Saw Pah Dwai, A.T.M., Barrister-at-Law, and Dr. Po Min or Saw Durmay, of white elephant fame. These men have tried, each in his own way, to do their utmost to help and uplift their people, champion their cause, and fight their battles, and as one modestly said, "To make the Karens known, at least." Their aims and objects are highly commendable, and that spirit of helping their oppressed countrymen has always been present.

Saw Durmay is a man, still comparatively young, notable for certain actions and undertakings which are very unusual, and with such vast aims that it would need a Solomon or a Mahawthata to foretell the ultimate result.

The birth-place of this outstanding man was somewhere in Kyaukkyi, but his sphere of activities has been mostly in Toungoo, Toungoo hills, and vicinity. I has often been asked by those interested whether Dr. Saw Po Min was really a qualified medical man. It seems that Dr. Po Min studied in Calcutta for some few years and while there he took great interest in medicine, attended clinics, learned how to compound medicines, etc., by special permission of the physician-in-charge, and eventually made the acquaintance of the Surgeon-General. After some time, he gained some knowledge of drugs and their actions, compounding and the treatment of the ordinary and more common diseases. On his leaving Calcutta, he received a certificate from the Surgeon-General, certifying to his knowledge of drugs, compounding and treatment of ordinary and common diseases, and that he might be trusted to treat them. He has also a knowledge of indigenous drugs and method of Karen treatment.

His real name is Po Min, but he is also called Durmay by his intimate friends, and this name he has adopted as a part of his surname owing to an incident which happened while he was in London. There appeared in one of the London illustrated papers an article on elephant catching in Burma with sketches of the methods, etc. Dr. Po Min was the man who gave particulars of the methods in use and his name was mentioned in an article which stated that the "Burmese Method" of catching elephants was very unique and humane and that the result was very good all round. Dr. Po Min at once had it published in the paper that the method of catching elephants as described by him was not Burmese but Karen, that indigenous elephant catchers were Karens and not Burmans and that he, Dr. Po Min, was a Karen and not a Burman. The Burma Observer, having seen the article, commented to the effect that if Dr. Saw Po Min was so keen on making a distinction and prided himself on being a Karen, why did he own a Burmese name? This article in the Burma Observer touched Dr. Po Min to the quick and he immediately announced in the papers that henceforth his name would be Saw Durmay (Durmay means a black ant that runs on the ground, and when it bites it produces a very painful, hot sensation). Subsequent events, however, have shown that Dr. Po Min has not quite discarded his former name but now has it "Dr. Saw Durmay Po Min."

From the above incident, one may conclude that Dr. Po Min is one of those strong-headed men with a great amount of courage behind him. When the Burmese sent their delegates to England some years ago in connection with the Reforms Scheme, in spite of the unwillingness of some of the Karen elders and the fact that funds were not available for the purpose Dr. Po Min formed one of the two delegates saying, "I am going even against the wishes of some of you, and I am going at my own expense, so you can have nothing to say." He went there late for the sitting of the Selborne Committee, but he remained there and did, among other things, a good turn for the Karens in republishing Mr. Smeatons Loyal Karens of Burma which he distributed to a number of prominent people in England and to some officials in Burma. This book, which gives a very accurate account of the Karens, contains many valuable suggestions relating to the policy Government should pursue, and by which the Karens could be made to realise and appreciate to the full extent the good intention of Government, and which at the same time would be of great mutual benefit to the rulers and the ruled.

During the Wembley Exhibition, Dr. Saw Po Min sent two elephants with his Karen Mahout to increase the attractiveness of the Burmese exhibition. Recently he took his famous white elephant to the London Zoo, personally, and created quite a sensation. Incidentally, when the white elephant first left the shores of Burma it so happened that the rains did not set in at the usual time. There was a delay of some weeks, and this delay in the onset of the rainy season was attributed by some to the white elephant having been taken away from Burma, as on a previous occasion in the time of Waythandaya Min, when he gave away his white elephant to another country, drought and famine followed and lasted until the day the white elephant was brought back.

To have captured a real white elephant is indeed a very rare achievement--it is said that such an event has happened only a few times in the long history of Burma. White elephants are considered sacred in Burma and Siam, and Dr. Po Min must have some definite plan as to the ultimate disposal of the one captured by him. Meanwhile this parading and exhibition of the white elephant by him will no doubt have the effect of making the Karens better known to the general public. There are many Karens who expect great things from Dr. Po Min and his activities, while not a few are puzzled in their attempt to conjecture the final outcome of his recent unusual undertaking.

Dr. Po Min has had strange experiences, to which he attaches great importance. For instance, there is a story that a hen once flew up and perched on his shoulder and laid an egg which dropped into his pocket, and the writer has observed that by some strange influence many people who came from the hills to Saw Durmays place in Toungoo have turned into prophets or become temporarily insane!


Burma and the Karens, Dr. San C. Po C.B.E. (1870-1946)

Sources, among others

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