The Return of the Galon King: History, Law, and Rebellion in Colonial Burma

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By Maitrii Aung-Thwin

Towards the end of 1930, on a secluded mountain overlooking the rural paddy fields of British Burma, a peasant leader named Saya San crowned himself king and inaugurated a series of uprisings that would later erupt into one of the largest anticolonial rebellions in Southeast Asian history. Considered an imposter by the British, a hero by nationalists, and a prophet-king by area-studies specialists, Saya San's attempt to resurrect the lost throne of Burma came to embody traditional Southeast Asia's encounter with European colonialism.

The Return of the Galon King analyzes the legal aspects of the Saya San story and reconsiders the facts on which the basic narrative and interpretations of the rebellion are based. The author reveals how British legislation criminalized certain elements of Burmese culture, contributing to the way peasant resistance was recorded in official documents and has been understood by scholars.

This interdisciplinary study shows how interpretations of Burmese culture by colonial anthropologists, lawyers, and scholar-administrators produced interpretations have influenced contemporary notions of Southeast Asian resistance and protest. It provides a fascinating case study of how history is treated by the law, how history emerges in legal decisions, and how the authority of the past is used to validate legal findings.


"...an important contribution to the study of colonial Burma, particularly by introducing elements of post-colonial theory that have hitherto been largely absent from the field."
Jonathan Saha

"Return of the Galon King is a brilliant example of listening to one's sources, rather than talking past them. By trying to understand what the Rebellion Tribunal was actually about, not what we want it to be about, Aung-Thwin has created an indispensable work out of an indispensable historical episode." - Eric Jones


Maitrii Aung-Thwin is an Assistant Professor of Southeast Asian history at the National University of Singapore.


Publication Year: 2011
268 pages, 229mm x 153mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-509-5, Paperback

NUS Press