RARE ORCHIDS RARER: Social Media, Digital Ecopoetics and Environmental Activism in Myanmar

  • John Charles Ryan University of New England


Since 2011, the liberalisation of the media in Myanmar has resulted in the exponential growth of Internet-enabled mobile technologies and social media penetration. Facebook has become the leading platform used by Burmese people living in Myanmar as well as diasporic Burmese communities. In particular, digital connectivity has facilitated the global dissemination of media narratives concerning Myanmar‘s repression of writers, performers and activists who have voiced the social inequalities and environmental urgencies of the nation. Over the past decade, poets have developed a variety of digitalliterary strategies—parody, satire, acrostics and other means—to propagate ecopolitical dissent. This paper outlines three cases calling attention to the significance of social media in the environmental activist poetry of Myanmar: the satirical eco-performative spoken word of the thangyat troupe Peacock Generation; the use of social media as an essential tool by Maung Sein Win (Padigon) to speak out against the construction of the Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River; and the ecodigital activism of poet Mya Kabyar in advocating for the protection of the Chin Hills range in Chin State, northwestern Myanmar. The study employed content analysis of social media sources—as well as close reading of individual poems—to elucidate the role of platforms, such as Facebook and Soundcloud, in the digital ecopoetics of post-junta Myanmar. The preliminary results of the study indicate that, while social media-based poetry engenders broader national and international awareness of ecological issues in Myanmar, the medium also places writers under greater scrutiny by the quasi-military post-junta regime.