HOPES OF BIRDS IN A CAGE
Cast of Characters
LAY MAUNG: A male worker who joined CDM (civil disobedience movement) after the military coup in Myanmar. Now, he is serving as a sergeant in the 6th brigade of the Karenni People’s Defense Force (KPDF) which is based in Kayah State in Myanmar.
KYAW SWAR: A male student who also dropped out of the university as a CDM in February 2021. Now, he is also one of the members of the 6th brigade of KPDF.
YARZAR: A male student activist who is the best friend of Kyaw Swar. They joined the 6th brigade in October 2021.
KHIN OO: She is also a CDM teacher who was detained in May 2021 but released from prison in April 2022 when the Junta pardoned prisoners for Myanmar New Year. She also joined KPDF in October 2022 and now, she is working as a chef of the 6th brigade.
HTIN PAW: A politician who is 40 years old and the oldest in the camp. He has been through the 8888 Uprising, the 2007 Saffron Revolution, and now the 2021 Spring Revolution. He has been detained three times since the 8888 Uprising on the 8th of August 1988 for being an activist. He is the first person who joined the 6th Brigade among these people and he serves as a corporal in the 6th Brigade.
Htin Paw, Lay Maung, Yarzar, Kyaw Swar, and Khin Oo are members of one of the brigades that are under KNDF. They have limited funding to keep running the camp so they are discussing how to raise the funding during this period when there is less publicity around the revolution as the citizens have to struggle for their livelihoods because of the inflation and other matters created by the military government. Their conversation continues about their hopes after the revolution with the embedded feelings and emotions.
SETTING: In the brigade camp which is a collective residence inside the forest and where people who are fighting against the military live.
AT RISE: Khin Oo is preparing the breakfast for the troops of the 6th brigade together with KYAW SWAR
Oh…the rice is gone again. Huu…I need to ask for the funds again from the corporal. Do you know that Lay Maung, asking for the budget is the most anxious thing for me to do since I took charge of this kitchen? I cannot look at the corporal when I ask for funding from him because even though he didn’t let us know the condition of the funding, I could predict the difficulties he is going through.
I can feel you, sister. That’s why I also don’t dare to ask him to give me a real gun and try to keep training with this fake wooden gun without complaints.
Of course. I know that, Lay Maung. But don’t be too upset. It’ll be alright when it comes to the right time. Just keep practicing hard. Come come. Let’s just put the plates on the table.
(Looking to the plates and sighs)
Again porridge! Please feed us something delicious, Ma Khin Oo. We are getting tired of porridge. This also cannot fill our stomachs and makes us hungry from time to time.
(With a sorrowful face)
I see, Kyaw Swar. But please try to eat that for today and tomorrow I will ask for money from the corporal and try to make delicious dishes for you all. Ok?
Fine! Hope you are not telling stories, my big sister. Guys, come on! Let’s have our big sister’s delicious porridge.
(When it comes to noon, Khin Oo goes to the corporal’s place and tries to ask about the costs of buying rice and other rations but when she arrives, there are Kyaw Swar, Lay Maung, and the corporal, Htin Paw sit together on the wooden couches and having tea leaf salad and hot tea.)
Well…you guys are having a good time, huh?
No way, my sister. We are talking about how to get the funds for the camp since people are losing their interest in the revolution and our funding is getting lower and lower.
Yes…I have been noticing that since the rate of funding has been getting lower. I am also coming here to ask about the budget for the rice and rations since we don’t have any more rice than the amount for this evening and tomorrow. How can I continue my words when I hear about the funding condition? I have been distressed about this since this morning. Many other brigades like us need funding so we cannot keep complaining that we are the only ones suffering.
It is impossible to wait to get the budget from the officials so how about making an auction about something important? I saw that when I got internet when we went to the town to buy rations last month. Oh…how about auctioning YARZAR’s necklace by advertising that this is our fallen comrade’s thing so I think people might be interested.
(Suddenly, Kyaw Swar loses his facial composure and bows his head since images of that day appear on his head again.)
(On the battleground, while Kyaw Swar is tieing up a piece of clothes around Yarzar’s thighs to stop bleeding)
Yarzar, are you ok? Don’t lose control and keep your eyes.
Kyaw Swar, I don’t think I can handle it.
No worries! Just focus on your breathing. Just a moment to get to the medical team.
(Kyaw Swar tries to put Yarzar’s body on his back and run to the medical team)
Kyaw Swar, even though I am not beside you, don’t be discouraged and try to get the victory and take care of yourself. I will give this necklace to you and you can assume this as me who is always with you.
Stupid! Don’t say nonsense. Save your energy! Just focus on your breathing and hold on to the pain.
(Halfway through, Yarzar’s hands drop, and stop breathing.)
Yarzar! Yarzar! Yarzar! Hey, reply to me back! Yarzar!
(Kyaw Swar stops and puts Yarzar down on the ground tries to do CPR and keeps mumbling.)
Yarzar, don’t tease me. Please don’t leave me alone. How can I smoke cigarettes without you who always grabs half of my cigarettes? How can I play the guitar without you who always sings? Who should I confide my problems to? Who will say, “Leave it, mate! That’s life” whenever I complain about my problems?
(Then, he shouts.)
(Htin Paw noticed that Kyaw Swar feels sad for his friend so he tries to bring back the conversation about raising funds)
Hmm…it’s a good idea but it’s ok. Don’t be sad, Kyaw Swar. Maybe we can think about other alternatives.
It’s ok, sir. Yarzar also might be happy if we get the funds by selling his memorial things. You don’t have to be embarrassed about that. Let’s try Lay Maung’s ideas.
Ok, then Kyaw Swar, could you please bring Yarzar’s necklace so we can take a photo of it and can announce it on Facebook?
Yes, Sir. I will go and get it.
(While Kyaw Swar is getting the necklace, Khin Oo takes a seat on the couch and continues the conversation.)
I don’t know how you guys keep your dedication and move on. For me, I want to finish this revolution as soon as possible and I just want to see my son novitiate into monkhood and spend the rest of my life teaching the students who I adore. I can say that I also joined here to fight for my son and my students’ future. How about you guys? What do you guys want to do when we win?
I also just want to get a proper job to support my family and for my daughter to continue her education. Now, it has been three years since she dropped out of school. My wife tried to do homeschooling for her but as you know, the real school cannot be replaced with home. I am really worried that I cannot give the proper education to my daughter. I do not want big things but I just want to see my daughter graduate.
As a person who has been detained many times, I do not want to fulfill any significant wishes for myself. I just want to see that all of our citizens are happy by experiencing the real essence of democracy and federalism and can share these incredible stories and sufferings they have been through with the upcoming generations. It is enough and worth the years I have been in prison.
(At the same time on Kyaw Swar’s side, he takes out Yarzar’s necklace from the small wooden box while sitting weakly and holding the necklace firmly in his hands with watery eyes, and mumbles)
Mate, I decided to give your necklace to the corporal to get funds for the camp. This is the last thing I keep from you and now there is nothing tangible left with me related to you but you know, you are always in the bottom of my heart. I will never forget you even though I don’t have any tangible things related to you. You should also be very proud of yourself that even if you are not here, your things can help the camp to keep going.
(Kyaw Swar puts the necklace again in the box and brings it to the corporal’s place. When he arrived, Khin Oo said that they were talking about the hopes and dreams they wanted to achieve after the revolution. Kyaw Swar slowly smiles gritting his teeth and says)
Of course, I also hoped that I and Yarzar will attend our university and spend time as a university student no matter how old I am. But, how about the hopes of the people who have sacrificed their lives in this revolution like Yarzar? Are we even supposed to have hope? Now, I just want to follow my friend even after we win.
No, Kyaw Swar. That’s not correct. I also think that Yarzar also doesn’t want you to be like that. You know there is a saying by Bhamo Tin Aung, “It’s also a battle to stay alive when the enemy wants you to die.” Keep your hope, Kyaw Swar. It is not worth dying for them. Either way, you have to survive.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
― Martin Luther King
Reflection Essay of “Hopes of Birds in the Cage” Playscript
Can’t the oppressed people have hopes for the future? The background context of this play is the spring revolution in Myanmar which emerged on the 1st February of 2021 because the Myanmar military seized the power to rule the country by deposing the existing Aung San Suu Kyi government (Bynum, 2021). After the junta government tried to use more aggressive tactics to repress the peaceful protests, the protesters tried to defend themselves by using rudimentary weapons such as Molotovs. Consequently, it ended in forming local resistance groups known as People Defense Forces (PDFs) throughout the country (The Diplomat, 2022). This play wants to show different lives under a military coup met in one place, their struggles and hopes for democracy and federalism for building a better country, and how it relates to the approach of the theatre of the oppressed by showing the struggles and oppression.
This play brings up that different lives such as a worker, a teacher, a politician, and a university student have the same willingness to drag down the junta and want to build a better country and struggle together to fight for democracy. The author tries to compose the play with characters with different backgrounds to show their dedication and sacrifices for the revolution. Even though they face difficulties such as a funding case in the play, they try to solve those problems with their solidarity by brainstorming solutions together. As the revolution takes over time, the public, especially people from urban areas, seems to forget them and unintentionally push those people who sacrifice their lives and are armed to exile the community and they become oppressed. These things reflect the real on-ground situations and also relate to the critical idea of the theatre of the oppressed by August Boal which represents reality and visualizes the concrete actions (Boal, 1985). Therefore, these characters and their struggles spotlight the lives of oppressed people and their dedication to sacrifice their lives for the future of their country.
This playscript also reveals the fact that people who are being oppressed also have hopes for their lives and want to fulfill those as normal people and the relation to the concept of the theatre of the oppressed by showing the hopes of an oppressed group of people. For this reason, the author shows the different hopes and dreams of the oppressed characters. Additionally, the author proves the tendency to lose hope because of the struggles and the experiences they have been through by showing Kyaw Swar’s thoughts and feelings of being privileged compared with the friend who died on the battlefield. This evidence shows that even though the hopes of oppressed people are not big and difficult to achieve. But, there are many obstacles for them to overcome. The author also intends to craft this play by representing the reality where those oppressed people suffer from their hopes. Thus, the sacrifices became more apparent through describing them in this play with the concept of the theatre of the oppressed,
To sum up, this play highlights the lives of the people who have been forgotten by the public and their endeavors over the struggles and hopes for the future. The characters and the plots of this play mainly focus on the people who sacrifice their lives for the revolution the difficulties they face, especially funding, and their thoughts and emotions embedded in them throughout their journey to fight against the junta. The main purpose of this play is to feature the ignorance of the citizens especially those who are from urban areas and the decreasing of public attention due to unseen circumstances such as inflation. Therefore, the whole citizens must hold their attention and dedication back to the revolution to stop this administration system which lacks justice and equity.
Boal, A. (1985). Theatre of the Oppressed. Theatre Communications Grou.
Bynum, E. (2021). Myanmar’s Spring Revolution. ACLED. https://acleddata.com/2021/07/22/myanmars-spring-revolution/
King, M. L. (1968, April 4). “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Retrieved May 23, 2023, from Guideposts website: https://guideposts.org/inspiring-stories/stories-of-faith-and-hope/martin-luther-king-jr-on-infinite-hope/
The Diplomat. (2022, March 8). The Emergence of Civilian Resistance to Military Rule in Myanmar. https://thediplomat.com/2022/03/the-emergence-of-civilian-resistance-to-military-rule-in-myanmar/