The loss of a Burmese icon: ‘Moustache Brother’ Par Par Lay passes away

MOST tourists that made the trek north to the Burmese city of Mandalay would have stopped by the Moustache Brothers for their nightly cultural shows. However, the comedic trio of U Par Par Lay, U Lu Zaw and Lu Maw lost the leader of their troupe last week when Par Par Lay passed away.

Aged 67 years, the comedian was discharged from hospital on July 16 when it became clear he would not recover from kidney and urinary problems. He died at home on August 2.

From left to right: Lu Maw, Par Par Lay and Lu Zaw. Pic: From the Facebook Page for the Moustache Brothers

While Par Par Lay and the “brothers” (Lu Zaw is actually their cousin) have been entertaining tourists for the last 12 years with their special combination of humour, slapstick, music and dance, their real message has been about their struggle against the military dictatorship that governed their nation for 50 years. The nightly troupe was also the only way the brothers could still perform after they were banned from public performances to Burmese audience in 2001. Unable to reach their own population, and continually watched, they resorted to shows in English instead.

Those that visited the show before the democratic elections of 2010, may also recall that taxis and rickshaw drivers were reticent to be seen outside the Moustache Brothers’ doors.

Par Par Lay performing in December 2011. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Par Par Lay gained international renown when he was jailed in 1996 for seven years of hard labour for criticizing the government. He was released in 2001. He was also jailed in 1990 for six months and from September to November in 2007. The income from the shows is what has sustained the family over the years, particularly when Par Par Lay was in prison.

Despite democratic elections and some positive changes in Burma in recent years, the ban on the Moustache Brothers was kept in place and they were not allowed to perform with any other groups.

However in the last 12 months Par Par Lay, true to form, had ignored this ban and travelled the country promoting his ‘No Fear Campaign’ to urge people to abandon their fear of politics.

Par Par Lay launching his No Fear campaign. Pic: The Myanmar Times.

He told The Myanmar Times in November 2012:

“I already went to about 40 offices for this campaign. I don’t crticise or point out any weak points about our opponents, I just tell people how they can move within the framework of the [law]. Sometimes I make political jokes and sing songs … I also tell people about courage, giving the example of how I would go and perform, even though I knew I could be arrested after the performance,” said Par Par Lay.

“We need to try to get more people [to vote] for the NLD in the 2015 election and I am working for this goal. I decided on the ‘no fear’ theme because I found that some were afraid to vote for the NLD even in the by-elections and I still see some of them [are afraid]. So I talked to them about courage and democracy by comparing with my life, the difficulties I faced in the past, and letting them know what human rights are,” he said, adding that he thought about one-third of people in the areas he visited were afraid of politics.

No information has yet been posted on the Moustache Brothers’ Facebook page about their future intentions.