Le Pon Lay Village လယ္ပံုေလး
As part of our cultural preservation mission, we have begun traveling around Indawgyi to collect oral histories about the different villages around the lake. Oral histories are one of the best (and sometimes only) way of learning the history of a village and meeting with elders provides a unique glimpse into Indawgyi's past.
Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with a village elder, U Thein San (ဦးသိန္းစံ) who was born in Leponlay in 1936 and, aside from spending some time in Yangon, has spent most of his life there.
Located on the southern edge of Indawgyi, Le Pon Lay Village (meaning Younger Rice Field) was founded in the early 1900s with forty-five houses and today is primarily agrarian and not surprisingly surrounded by rice fields.
With the area's close proximity to the water, it was an ideal place where traders could ship teak from the nearby forests through the lake and up the river to the city of Moguang. Recognizing the value of this trade, the British colonial administration took control of the route.
Before Le Pon Lay, U Shwe Toon (ဦးေရႊထြန္း), a local colonial representative and wealthy individual created the village of Le Pon Gyi, (Older Rice Paddy) (လယ္ပံုႀကီး) nearby to better facilitate the teak trade. The village was prosperous and many people came to live and work there. One example is U Thein San's father who arrived at the lake when he was sixteen years old who and worked as an assistant to a British general who oversaw the area.
Destruction of Le Pon Gyi, World War II
Le Pon Gyi, unfortunately, was not long-lived. U Shwe Toon, who was the village leader, had an encounter with some bandits. He was robbed of most of his wealth and afterward the village could no longer sustain itself.sss
Many people left, other headed back away from the water's edge to Le Pon Lay where the terrain was less swampy and better suited for farming. During World War II, the Japanese occupied the area and three wounded soldiers actually stayed in the village.
Fighting around the lake was intense and there were many confrontations between the Japanese and British forces and by the time the war finally ended, the village was completely destroyed.
After the war, the Le Pon Lay was rebuilt with 12 houses. Though still fairly small, it has grown quite significantly since then. It was only about forty years ago that rice farming actually became a primary activity around the village.
U Thein San actually left the village when he was 17 years old and lived in Yangon for 10 years. He returned when he was 27 so that he could take care of his sick mother. He was only supposed to stay for a month, but has been here ever since. He got married, started his own farm, had children and even at age 81 can still be found working in his garden or out in the fields.
One last interesting note that he shared with us was that the primary road along Indawgyi was only six feet wide for most of his life and that when he was a child, he could hear tigers roaring at night.
Getting to Le Pon Lay
These days, Le Pon Lay is located just a few kilometers from the main road along the western edge of the lake. You can also travel by kayak or motorboat from any of the other villages around Indawgyi. It has a large monastery, beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and plenty more stories about its past to share.