Mawlaik has a Golf Course: British Raj in Myanmar

January 5, 2014

U Thant Zin - Mawlaik's local historian.
U Thant Zin – Mawlaik’s local historian.

I borrowed a bicycle and joined U Thant Zin for a tour of the Victorian Village in Mawlaik.

Mawlikbritish1916

Let me take you back to 1916.

Par 2
Par 2

To support the teak trade along the Chindwin, the British imported their way of life from back home. So Mawlaik has a golf course, although the grass is not always cut these days.

Welcome to the club house.
Welcome to the clubhouse.

 And where there’s a clubhouse there’s a story.

Imagine it's 1920, someone's behind the bar and the tables are filled with expats.
Imagine it’s 1920, someone’s behind the bar and the tables are filled with teak plantation owners, British military, and government officials.

 The clubhouse appears to have been the center of social gatherings during the Victorian era.

Having drinks on the veranda while the golfers play.
Was it drinks or tea the British had on the veranda while games were played on the green?

I suggest that you read Burmese Days to get an understanding of how important the clubhouse was to those wanting to keep a link to the motherland which was at least a month-long journey back home.

Parade ground - for what?
Parade ground – for what?

The terrain is not conducive to raising horses and Mawlaik was not a big military site.  Maybe they used the grounds to play polo or cricket.

Two story government office built in 1916
Two-story government office built in 1916

The teak trade must have been brisk for the British to have built such a large government building in such a remote area. My question is: what kind of work would the government employees do?

Notice use of Underwood typewriters.
Notice the use of Underwood typewriters is still in practice.

 What struck me about the current use of the government offices was that the Burmese appear to be temporary tenants, ready to pick up and move.  Nothing seems permanent.

Mawlaik Courtroom
Mawlaik Courtroom

Some offices remain empty, like the court room.

British jail in Mawlaik
British jail in Mawlaik

Prisoners were Burmese only. When U Thant Zin and I passed by the jail, he just shook his head. That was statement enough.

British hospital no longer in use except for solar panel, laundry and grazing.
‘British only’ hospital is no longer in use except for the solar panels, laundry, and grazing.

There’s a new hospital in Mawlaik built adjacent to the old one. The old brick building is not seismically stable and Mawlaik has seen a number of earthquakes. The new hospital serves all.

For whites only.
Plantation era hospital for whites only.

U Thant Zin sounded bitter when we walked around what he called the “white section” of the hospital.  They have torn down the old Burmese section of the hospital.

Mawlikchurch

What would any Victorian Village be without a Christian church?

Church bell tower
Church bell tower shy of bell.

It even had a bell tower. Imagine being a Buddhist and hearing the bell every Sunday and maybe for weddings, too. I heard Caucasian women from Britain were enticed to visit for just such purposes.

Mawliksuperintendenthouseoutside2
British Commissioner’s house.

Since Mawlik was ruled by the British, they needed a Government Commissioner and he needed lodging with the finest teak woodwork.

Grand entrance to the Commissioner's house.
Grand entrance to the Commissioner’s house with teak banister.

 Currently, the Myanmar government is investing some funds into the restoration of the old British buildings.

Doesn't look like anyone's coming to dinner.
Doesn’t look like anyone’s coming to dinner but laundry is airing out.

These abandoned buildings just sit there. I didn’t see any work being done while I was there.

Teak wood throughout Commissioner's house.
Teak wood throughout Commissioner’s house.

I was surprised the flooring was not teak but either tile or linoleum. Maintaining buildings and in particular, wood is expensive in the hot humid climate along the Chindwin.  It was phenomenal that these buildings were still standing. They’d be perfect as a backdrop in some BBC movie.  

Bedroom - notice fireplace
Bedroom – notice the fireplace

Hidden in the back, the bedrooms appeared to serve as housing for the landlord’s family. Again, there was a sense of willingly temporary use.

Officer's house back stairs
Officer’s house backstairs

Wherever there are government officials, there are government officers to protect them. Their homes were not as elaborate as the superintendents.

Luxury crapper
Luxury crapper

But, they were fancy enough to have a western-style crapper.

Mawlikofficerfireplace

U Thant Zin said only British buildings had fireplaces.

Mawlikofficersalonwithshrine

There hasn’t been much entertaining in the officer’s salon in recent years, so the current landlords have converted it into a Buddhist shrine.

Outback in the kitchen
Outback in the kitchen

All British kitchens were kept separate from the rest of the house. As noted in Kalewa, fires are not unusual, and rebuilding the kitchen is much easier than the whole house.

Landlords kitchen today
Landlord’s kitchen today

Today, they caretakers have moved their cooking into the main building.  Yet notice how temporary it looks.

Two-man saw
Two-man saw to cut down teak trees.

I can’t imagine them using these “two-man” saws today. But if they still use oxen to haul the logs to the river, then maybe they don’t have chainsaws large enough to cut the teak lumber.

British staff housing
British staff housing

British staff were needed to manage the locals.

British Forester's house - in use today by Burmese Forester.
British Forester’s house – in use today by Burmese Forester.

And the British Forester must have been as important as the Commissioner. with the harvest of the Teak being paramount. You can tell his importance by the size of the house.  

Mawlikflowers

But all that remains from the Victorian era are the buildings. In 1942 the Japanese invaded Burma and the British fled to India. The Raj never returned. It is up to you to use your imagination and fill these buildings in with the people who lived and died there.

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