The Role Owls Play in Myanmar

the 27th Southeast Asian Games just started in Myanmar and you’ll likely (hopefully?) hear more and more about it over the coming days — and more and more about the country as a whole as it uses the Games as a vehicle to reemerge onto the world stage. the last time it hosted the games? 1969.

i happened to visit in the month leading up to the Games and there were already decorations festooning Yangon — and many included this cartoon couple, the mascots of the games:


The male owl on the left is named Shwe Yoe and the female owl on the right is Ma Moe. If “shwe” is the same shwe that’s in Shwedagon (Pagoda), it means gold.

and then i started noticing little owl statues and dolls everywhere — hanging in store windows, sitting on windowsills, in cars. do they have an obsession with owls? is it the country’s official animal? (no, that would be a peacock.)

A blurry photo of a stadium in Yangon I snapped from the cab on the way into town from the airport. You can see the owls participating in all sorts of sports!

A blurry photo I snapped from the cab on the way into town of a stadium in Yangon. You can see the mascots at the top of the arch and them participating in all sorts of sports along the sides.

i finally learned (while visiting the village pictured below) that they are a symbol of good luck — but only in pairs. you can’t just have one owl, you must have two for it to be a lucky charm, explaining why i never saw just one alone.

the organizers of the Games go on to say:

The owl as official mascot of Myanmar SEA Games 2013 has a personality: wise, calm, lucky, loyal, and friendly.The personality of an owl is expected to bring forth cooperation, friendship, and better understanding among the participating countries.

here are a pair of owls in a village in Bagan:


if you’re wondering what was going on underneath the owls, an old lady…


was spinning thread for some textiles she was selling.


i admit i kind of regret not getting a pair of owls to take home with me! 🙁


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