Myanmar Spring Chronicle – Trauma of the past haunting

Myanmar Spring Chronicle – August 11 Scenes

MoeMaKa, August 12 2022

Trauma of the past haunting

On the morning of 1st February  2021, after the news that the military coup had taken place, the front of rice shops and edible oil shops were crowded with shoppers. Scenes of people who could buy bags of rice were loading  rice bags on rickshaws and cars, and scenes of people buying as much as they could afford, such as buying 1 viss, 2 visses or 10 visses of oil reminded us of the traumas of the past Masala era and the past brutal military regime that we want to forget.

What traumatic events happened during the MaSaLa era?

It lasted for decades during which the only surplus rice was allowed to be sold by farmers to the outside market after selling all the rice to the government first in the Masala era. For a rice harvesting farmer, it was set he had to sell how many tons of rice per acre he planted to a rice buying agents of the government, and this amount of rice was called “duty rice” at that time. There have also been incidents of people being arrested and jailed for violating the law, issued and approved by the MaSaLa government if they failed to fulfill their duties. If we told these stories to those who have never experienced in the past, it would be a strange era hard to understand.

Back then, the government controlled all production and distributed under the socialist system, not only in politics but in the economy, private ownership was allowed only to a limited extent, and the rest of the production volume is controlled by the government in all areas of production and distribution through a centralized system. Due to this, the country fell into the group of the poorest and backward countries.

In shops in the all neighborhood, called people-shops at the beginning of the MaSaLa era, which were renamed as cooperative shops in the middle of the era, sugar, condensed milk, soap, kerosene and cigarettes and sometimes linens such as poplin were allowed to be purchased with a fixed quota. One record-book has been issued per household and it was recorded in the book that 50 ticals sugar, 10 cigarettes, 1 package of candles and a bottle of kerosene were sold on which month and day, and the books issued by public-shops must be kept well. Some poor families which had no rice to cook and no food to eat, could mortgage the book to money lenders in their area for a few kyats. At the time of the mortgage, that lender had the right to withdraw the monthly quota from the public shop.

According to the quota, there were times when even one pack of cigarettes per household was not available, and cigarette boxes such as Duyar and Khapaung were opened and sold 10 cigarettes per household, when 1 pack of cigarettes was quoted for two households. The household that had the opportunity to buy these 10 cigarettes went to the neighborhood betel nut shop or grocery shop, and sold them for extra money. The profit was added to the family’s budget.

The experience of those who preceded those times, was life taught them that they must buy rice and edible oil if there was a negative political event happening or rumors spreading. It was habitual to buy and save food with worry as stuck in their mental trauma whenever there were riots or political instability.

I saw this practice again on 1st February last year, and I thought to myself that it was no longer necessary at that time. More than a year later, cars are seen lining up at diesel and gasoline stations again. The price of the dollar has soared, and the sales of medicines and goods have been temporarily closed. The price of palm oil is increased to 8,000-9000 per viss, and the scenes of people standing in line are seen again as the Oil Traders Association is selling oil 3000-4000 cheaper than the external market price. Last year, the scene in which people lined up in front of the banks every day and had to wait for hours to withdraw their own deposited money, has been seen again. Everyday, we read the news that hundreds of people have been arrested in the jungel on the border of Thailand and Myanmar while smuggling themselves to work in Thailand. We are also seeing scenes in which hundreds of people had to line up since 1 or 2:00 am at the place which sold application forms in order to work in Japan and a scene of riot when it was announced at morning that the forms would not be sold.

  Although the current situation is not comparable to the MaSaLa era, signs of worsening economic crisis are emerging one by one.


Although Myanmar is a country that can produce enough food for the country’s population, it is now in a position to face famine due to unequal distribution and lack of money to buy food. Fuel which is needed to be imported from abroad, rises in line with  World’s oil prices. The significant depreciation of Myanmar Kyat due to domestic political upheavals will deepen the problems of economic crisis and poverty.


Today, a friend joked that, will the era of buying rice and edible oil through the quota-book as like in ancient times, be returned? I don’t think that the events of the MaSaLa era will exactly happen again. But, deteriorating law enforcement, armed conflicts which are becoming more and more widespread and the occurrences of robberies, murders in the cities and rural regions almost nearly every day, are unique regressions nowadays.


Would our country be like Sri Lanka where all the business and services shut down and reached to default and the ruling Prime Minister had to run away? Sri Lanka’s government had run out of foreign reserves and had been unable to find any help for months from outside World. And so, it was a peculiar situation where all the processes of that country came to a standstill. I don’t think anyone can accurately predict whether Myanmar’s situation will be like that or not. This is because it is difficult to get accurate statistics, and so, most data are only rough estimates. No one can definitely say that the situations will be like what the visual articles expressed in the news media. Sometimes, there are also many opinion articles that try to draw parallels with speculative international examples.


All events that remind us of the past are traumatic experiences and past histories. Now it is in a situation in which the ray of hope can’t be seen anywhere apart from the political sermons that are preached purely to motivate our spirit from both side of political forces.