I met N Hpan Ja Ra towards the ends of 2014, in the front room of her house in Myitkyina, Kachin State. I had been invited by a publisher friend who only introduced her as the Jade Lady of Kachin …
It’s a moniker well earned.
Agnes, her real name, is famous for her voice. She was the first to sing Jinghpaw language songs on the radio and the first women to compose her own lyrics. She was given the name Uyen Sinwa N Hpan Ja Ra, after the bird that sings so beautifully that others will come to the tree just to hear its song.
She is infamous for her passionate, at times aggressive, stance on the freedom of the Kachin people. In the brief conversation i had with her, it was clear for Agnes, there is no difference between the Generals and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi:
From The People Elsewhere, page 155
“The Burman cannot be trusted. They try to make us slaves – we are not slaves. We Kachin will fight back our land.’
Some in Kachin State think Agnes unwise to be so outspoken, but at her age she clearly believed restraint was for the young. She leaned back in her chair, still cross-legged, and looked at me with a gleam in her brown eye, ‘You know, journalists come and ask me if i am afraid of going to jail. Why should i be afraid? I can eat prison rice. They ask if i’m afraid of being killed. Why should i be afraid of dying? We all have a birth date and we all have a death date”