domingo, 20 de dezembro de 2009

The enigmatic flag of Mindon


I had seen the flag played in old British prints of the Nineteenth Century, but I confess do not have aroused curiosity, thinking to lag behind the creative freedom of illustrators. Some days ago I have found it in a book of memories of the last British military campaign in northern Burma (1885) : a picuture of banners captured in the days before the fall of Mandalay, the last home of the Konbaung dynasty. There is it, the enigmatic flag, on the floor with other trophies: a black cross on a red field.

That was certainly not the flag of the kings of the dynasty, but a military standard. Could have only to do with the existence of Christians in the ranks of Mindon's and Thibaw's armies. Today, while browsing the best website dedicated to vexicology, found it with the following footnote: "The flag shown here is the banner of the royal gunners, who were mainly Christian Portuguese descendants." Then simply compare it with the flag of the Franciscan Order and there was no confusion: the same symbol. As the Franciscans were the first Portuguese to settle in Burma (1600), that flag was, (could only be) wielded by Portuguese Catholics. The portuguese-burmese gunners and sappers had long and respected career under Taungoo and Konbaung dynasties and fought against the Siamese, the Malay, the French and the Dutch, to be ravaged by the British armies. In the final days of Mandalay, they were the last defense against the military expedition led by General Prendergast. A puzzle ist to be doing, piece by piece. It is fascinating to watch the progressive definition of the name of Portugal emerging from the puzzle of research. Everything has to do with everything. There is no Siamese record, an ornament, a picture or a simple iconographic detail from Cambodian, Burmese or Malay ducuments which are not related to the presence of Portugal in Southeast Asia. Portugal was still in the Nineteenth century knocking on the door of the Twentieth century, the great reference in this vast region between India and the Middle Kingdom.

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