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A Glance at the Flood Water of Shan-kalay-kyun

2 December 2020

In Myanmar, there are four main rivers of which Ayeyarwaddy River is the longest one. Over 90% of the Ayeyarwaddy River basin lies within Myanmar and the river drains over 55% of the country’s surface area. The rural population - 70% of which includes over 100 ethnic groups - relies heavily on rivers for their livelihoods and culture. Therefore, Ayeyarwaddy is very important for transport, food and livelihoods of Myanmar people and it is tied with Myanmar culture.

Ayeyarwaddy River (left) and Shan-kalay-kyun village (right)

Shan-kalay-kyun is a village situated on the east-bank of Ayeyarwaddy and it annually experiences flooding. It is a small village with 860 households, a population of 3200, and three miles away from Mandalay (see figure 1). Mostly the villagers live off agriculture and they mainly grow peanuts. All of the houses in Shan-kalay-kyun are long-legged houses to resist thShan-kalay-kyun village (right) and Ayeyarwaddy River (left) e floods. In some houses the legs of houses are raised to relief the floods (see figure 2) and every house has the boat to use as vehicle during the floods (see figure 3).

Figure 2 Raised house-pole to resist the flood 

Figure 3 The house raised entrance pavement and boat

Normally the floods convey many damages and disasters to the societies. The people from Mandalay City see the villagers as the victims of the floods but some Shan-kalay-kyun villagers are very happy with the floods. During the months of Kasone (May), Nayon (June), Waso (July), Wakhaung (August) the water level of Ayeyarwady river rises and there used to be floods for two or three weeks (see figure 4 & 5). Actually, flooding makes many stories and meanings to the villagers.

Figure 4 Flooding at the village

Figure 5 Flooding at the house yard

One villager, a 81-year-old said;

When I was young, there was a big flood called Yebawye (Water Comrade). At that time Yebaw Phyu (White Comrade) and Yebaw Ni (Red Comrade) appeared when the communists came in. The tall houses were flooded. So that flood was named as Yebawye (Water Comrade). At that time, I was ten years old. (“ဒို့ငယ်ငယ်တုန်းက “ရဲဘော်ရေ” ဆိုပြီးတော့ ရှိတယ်။ ကွန်မြူနစ်တွေတက်လာတုန်းက ရဲဘော်ဖြူ၊ ရဲဘော်နီတွေတက်လာတော့ အဲ့တုန်းက ရေတစ်ခါကြီးဖူးတယ်။ ရေကိုမြှပ်သွားတာ၊ အိမ်အမြင့်ကြီးတွေကို အိမ်ပေါ်ထိကို ရေတက်သွားတာ။ အဲ့ဒါကြောင့် အဲ့တုန်းကရေကြီးတာကို “ရဲဘော်ရေ” လို့ခေါ်တာ။ အဲ့တုန်းက အဘက (၁၀)နှစ်သား ရှိပြီ။”)

He continued that,

"I'm not upset because we use to see the floods here. We are living happily. None of us drowned. From childhood, everybody can swim. It floods every year and so I am not afraid of the flood. There are not many years without floods. The water is entering around the village. Once, there was no flood when I was a master of steaming tabaco leaves and I was 52 years old. At that time, I wished the floods came. The flood is good for the fertility of the land and it removes all the rubbish. The more the water enter to the village, the cleaner it is. Because of the floods there becomes alluvial soil in the village and it is good for the successful crops as fertility.”(ဒို့က မြင်နေကြဆိုတော့ စိတ်မညစ်ဘူး။ ပျော်ပျော်ပဲနေကြတာ၊ ရေနစ်သေတဲ့သူ ‘ဒို့တွေဆီ တစ်ယောက်မှမရှိဘူး။ ကလေးငယ်ငယ်လေးတွေကစပြီး အကုန်ရေကူးတတ်တယ်။ နှစ်တိုင်းရေဝင်တာကိုး၊ နှစ်တိုင်းရေဝင်တော့ သိပ်မကြောက်တော့ဘူး။ ရေမဝင်တဲ့နှစ်က သိပ်မရှိဘူး။ ရွာပတ်ပတ်လည်တော့ ဝင်နေတာပဲ၊ ရွာထဲသာ မဝင်တာ။ တစ်နှစ်ပဲ။ ငါက ဆေးပေါင်းဆရာလုပ်တော့ ၅၂ နှစ်တုန်းက ရေမဝင်ဘူး။ ရွာထဲကို ရေမဝင်တော့ ဝင်စေချင်တာပေါ့။ ရေဝင်မှ မြေသြဇာကောင်းတာ၊ အမှိုက်သရိုက်တွေ အကုန်လုံးပါသွားတာ၊ “ရေဝင်လေ သန့်ရှင်းလေပဲ။ ရေဝင်တော့ နုန်းတင်တယ်၊ နုန်းတင်တော့ မြေသြဇာဖြစ်တယ် သီးနှံအထွက်တိုးတာပေါ့)

One lady said:

I have lived here since I was young, so I am happy when the tide rises. But there are difficulties. The problem is that when the water level rises, I don't want to drink river water, so I have to go to the embankment and get bottles of purified water.( အမတို့ကတော့လေ ငယ်ငယ်ကတည်းက ဒီမှာနေခဲ့တာဆိုဆေတာ့ ရေတက်လာရင် ပျော်တယ်။ ဒါပေမယ့် အခက်အခဲတွေတော့ ရှိတယ်။ ဘယ်လိုအခက်အခဲလဲဆိုတော့ ရေတက်လာပီဆိုရင်  မြစ်ရေမသောက်ချင်တော့ တာရိုးပေါ်ကို သွားပြီးတော့ ရေသန့်ဘူးတွေ ယူရတယ် အဲလောက်ပါပဲ။)

One of the villagers said;

When the flood is coming, I do not think I'm going to get in trouble. It's just a bit busy. Those who have upper story of the house they work there. Others make the racks on the basement and work on those racks. So will there be accomplished much work? The water is rising and falling and it cleans the village. In addition, the flood can make the new soil because of the sedimentation and the water with taking in and flowing out and even the rat pits are cleaned from the land.  (ရေတက်လာရင် ဒုက္ခရောက်တော့ မယ်လို့တွေးပါဘူး ဒုက္ခရောက်တော့မယ်လို့ ကိုယ်ကနေနေကျဆိုတော့ ဒီလိုပဲပေါ့ ဒုက္ခရောက်တော့မယ်လို့တော့ မတွေးပါဘူး။ နဲနဲလေးအလုပ်ကလေး ရှုပ်တာပေါ့အေ။ အိမ်အပိုရှိတဲ့သူကတော့ အိမ်ပေါ်မှာ အလုပ်လုပ်ကြတာပေါ့အေ။ တချို့ကျတော့လဲ အိမ်အောက်မှာ ဆင့်လုပ်ပြီး လုပ်ငန်းလုပ်ကြတာပေါ့။ ဒီလိုဆိုတော့ ဘယ်အလုပ်တွင်ပါ့မလဲအေ။ သူကတိုးရေကျရေဆိုတော့ ဒီတိုင်းတိုးနေတာပေါ့အေ။ သန့်ရှင်းသွားတာပေါ့။ ဒို့ရွာက မြေဆီမြေသားအသစ် ရေဝင်လိုက်ထွက်လိုက်ဆိုတော့ ကြွက်တွင်းကအစ မရှိတော့ဘူးပေါ့အေ။)

The head of the village said;

It becomes tradition and there is no much difficulty. In 2004, the water raised by reaching at the Aim Kharpan (the board band added as exterior trim to conceal floor edges and joists), about ten feet. At that time the people from Mandalay city came and looked to help us for food or any difficulties. Actually, we don’t have many difficulties. (ဒီကတော့ မိရိုးဖလာလိုဖြစ်နေတော့ သိပ်အခက်အခဲမရှိဘူး။ ၂၀ဝ၄တုန်းက ဒီအိမ်ခါးပန်းထိရေရောက်တယ်၁၀ပေလောက်၊ အဲတုန်းက မြို့ထဲကလူတွေက လာပြီးတော့ ကြည့်ကြတာလေ။ ဒီမှာ အစားအသောက်တို့ ဘာတို့များအခက်အခဲရှိသလားဆိုပြီး။ ဒီမှာ ဘာမှတော့ အခက်အခဲသိပ်မရှိဘူး။)

The above saying mentions that the villagers from Shan-kalay-kyun annually experience the floods and they are very friendly with the floods. Then the people perceive the flood water as one of their traditions and it brings merit to their lifes, even though they have some difficulties with it. The flood water is a part of their history, happiness and hope.

Figure 6 Washing clothes during the flood

People also wash the blankets, mosquito nets and their cloths during the floods (see figures 6 & 7). It becomes tradition for them to live with the water in their village. They also have local knowledge concerning the flood water. If the birds make their nets at the very strong place of the tree such as the big fork of the tree or high place, the water will raise very high. When the tide is about to rise, the water is cool and fresh. When the water becomes hotter and muddier, it is the sign that the tide will recede.

Figure 7 Washing the clothes during the flood

They separate the water according to their ways of use. For example, water for drinking, water for taking bath, water for using at the kitchen and so on. The land of the Shan-kalay-kyun is alluvial soil and it can soak up water quickly. In some houses they manage the waste water with an earthen pond or brick tank (see figures 8 & 9). Because of the flood they can practice the agriculture every year in new alluvial soil. But at present, because of the floods, Shan-kalay-kyun and its agricultural, flooded area are developed into an area with projects that will include modern hotels, hospitals, schools, jetties, shopping centers, gardens and apartment buildings. There are over 2000 acres of land for the zone of Shan-kalay-kyun urban development project. The project will reclaim alluvial lands by preventing annual floods along the bank of Ayeyawady river in Mandalay region (see figure 10). When this project is over, what are the stories of the villagers concerned with the flood water in future?

Figure 8 Waste water in earthen pond 

Figure 9 Waste water at the brick tank

Figure 10 The map for future project in Shan-kalay-kyun