Prophets of Rebellion: Millenarian Protest Movements against the European Colonial Order

Prophets of Rebellion: Millenarian Protest Movements against the European Colonial Order

Prophets of Rebellion: Millenarian Protest Movements against the European Colonial Order

Prophets of Rebellion: Millenarian Protest Movements against the European Colonial Order

Synopsis

Michael Adas discusses five millennial movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that took place in European colonies in Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Excerpt

Near the town of Dedaye in Lower Burma in January 1931, a well- armed party of colonial police was confronted by an irregular mass of nearly seven hundred Burman peasants. Despite warnings from the British officer in command that they would be fired upon, the peasants, armed only with knives, spears, and a few antique firearms, advanced fearlessly across open ground toward the ready guns of the Indian and Burmese mercenaries who made up the bulk of the colonial military forces. As they marched, the leaders of the rebel throng chanted cabalistic incantations to stupefy the enemy troops and rang sacred gongs to render their adversaries' rifles and machine guns useless. The rank-and-file clutched protective talismans, which had been distributed before battle, and displayed magic symbols tattooed on their chests and arms, which were intended to confer invulnerability. The peasants did not hesitate, for their victory seemed certain. All signs indicated that the forces of the cosmos were on their side. Many believed that Saya San, the prophet who had exhorted them to rebellion, was the Coming (Metaya) Buddha or the Buddha's messenger. He had promised an end to the infidel's rule and restoration of the Burman monarchy and the Buddhist religion. Through their prophet leader, the peasants sought to usher in a golden age of harmony and prosperity. They thought themselves invincible. No threats, no show of force could turn them back. As the closely packed ranks of the rebel band drew near to an embankment where the colonial forces had taken cover, the police opened fire. Nearly two hours later the bewildered remnants of the rebel force withdrew leaving hundreds of their comrades dead or wounded on the field of battle.

Since the early nineteenth century, this scene has been played out hundreds of times. The actors, settings, and cultural idioms have been different; the tragic endings have been similar. The Saya San rebellion in Lower Burma represents one type of a class of social movements for which Anthony Wallace's term "revitalization" is the most inclusive and useful label. Wallace defined revitalization intentionally in broad terms as "a deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture." This process presupposed that the participants in such . . .

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