Smokey Myanmar love poem saved by fans’ blowback

21 June 2019
Smokey Myanmar love poem saved by fans’ blowback
A woman looks out from a shoe shop in the Bo Gyoke Aung San market in Yangon on June 20, 2019. Photo: Sai Aung Main/AFP

A cherished Myanmar love poem will remain on the national curriculum after the government's plans to scrap it over fears it promoted smoking sparked widespread public anger.

"Present of a Cheroot", composed by writer Mae Khwe more than 200 years ago, has long been a staple for Burmese teenagers in a nation where literature is highly revered.

The ode describes how the poet makes a homemade cheroot -- a traditional kind of cigar -- for her far-away lover by drying the "aromatic leaves" in her bed then trimming them with her teeth.

It was not the steamy content, however, that prompted the education ministry to withdraw the verses from the curriculum in the conservative country.

Rather, the government confirmed earlier this month it feared it encouraged Grade 8 students, aged 13-14, to smoke.

Myanmar has around 13.3 million smokers, a quarter of the population, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

It estimates some 65,000 people a year die from tobacco use.

But the decision prompted uproar in some quarters.

Political commentator Mg Mg Soe took to Facebook to brand the decision-makers "idiots" who "did not understand history or traditions".

And this week the authorities reinstated the poem, albeit for Grade 10 instead, on the grounds 15 and 16-year-olds would be mature enough to handle the material.

Myanmar Teachers' Federation welcomed the decision to bring back Mae Khwe's work but the group's anger still raged.

"We cannot accept what they did," secretary Zaw Myo Hlaing told AFP on Thursday.

Facebook erupted in applause over the U-turn.

"See! Mae Khwe got a promotion," wrote Thiha Ko Ko.

Civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has not commented on the affair, but is known to be a keen reader and continually encourages Myanmar's young to pick up books.