Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Shan – Ah Na Soong Sut | Ah Na Jik Jawm

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Shan, Sovereignty

Ah Na Soong Sut

Ah Na Jik Jawm

Relates to sovereignty

Ah Na, originating from Pali, means ‘power’ or ‘authority’. Combined with the adjective soong, ‘high’ and the suffix sut, which denotes ‘the most’ or ‘-est’, the term comes to mean ‘the highest power.’

Although seemingly absolute, the term really has the connotation of being the highest power that can be achieved, leaving room for there to be yet a higher power. This term could be used for heads of townships, states or even the nation.

Ah na jik jawm is a stronger term. Jik jawm means the top-most, so together it is ‘the top-most power.’ This term is only used to talk about a national government. There is no power above this.

Both of these terms are relatively new and would only be understood by activists and better educated Shan political and military leaders. There appears to be no long-established that conveys the idea of absolute sovereignty. As shown in the term soon oob bung hungkor the idea of autonomous rule, even if only locally, was important to the Shan princes and remains important as part of the struggle for federalism. This term soon oob bung hungkor conveys the understanding that Shan princes had the right to rule as they saw fit over their people, but the power to rule might be either a gift (ahna soong sut) (so a prince owed allegiance to a greater prince or king) or absolute (ahna jik jawm) as in case of the king himself (such kings might be of Shan or of mixed Shan-Burman blood).

According to Sai Aung Tun, ‘sovereignty remained permanent despite changes in suzerain and internal or external policy – disturbed only by external war or foreign powers’.[1] The pre-British situation is conveyed when Sai Aung Tuan points out that with the British arrival the ‘Shan chiefs of this region had lost not only their sovereign rights but the autonomous rights they had enjoyed during the time of the Myanmar kings’.[2]

In the present day the chairmen of townships, districts or even Shan State itself would have ahna soong sut as the highest power in the area that they had obtained. The national government is the holder of ahna jik jawm. This ‘national government’ could be the government in Naypyidaw, the capital of Burma, or for the proponents of independence constituted as a separate, independent Shan national government of a Shan country. In some statements it is unclear what form of power Shan leaders are asking for:

On May 21, Shan State National Army (SSNA), led by Col Sai Yi, and Shan State Army South (SSA -S), led by Col Yawd Serk, merged and agreed to struggle for the restoration of sovereignty WHAT WORD? and rights of self-determination of the Shan State together. It is significant for the SSNA has been a ceasefire army, which has agreed to find political solution peacefully together with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) or the ruling military junta for almost a decade.[3]

For Shan, there is the conviction that central Burmese government sovereignty comes ‘from the barrel of a gun’, as evidenced from the quote below. The term carries the idea that sovereignty should be used for good and benefit the people. This is contrasted with the reality, in which the military has seized control and has abused sovereignty.

“Because sovereignty is in the hands of the SPDC, power enforced by guns has influenced the federal system from 1948 to now. People in Shan State never get benefits from the SPDC. They use cruelty to force the people and it never ends. Today, our country is gone and our people are suffering. For 50 years the SPDC has governed our country. Peaceful life, security, good health, education and economics have all gone with the SPDC.”[4]



[1] Sai Aung Tun, History of the Shan State from its Origins to 1962, Silkworm Books, Chiang Mai, 2009, p. 111

[2] Ibid, p. 151

[3] Sai Wansai, “Statement on Shan State National Army and Shan State Army Merger”, Shan Democratic Union, 24 May 2005,

[4] Shan Herald Agency for News, Freedom News, Vol. 3, No. 1 January 2003




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