Kachin Tribesmen Fighting Against Japanese in Burma – 1942

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Kachin Tribesmen Fighting Against Japanese in Burma – 1942

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Li Naw was sitting against one of the prop roots, under a large Banyan tree near edge of his village, guarded by a dozen Japanese soldiers pointing their automatic rifles directly at him. His wounded right leg wrapped in a bloody piece of cloth ripped from one of the dead villagers laying nearby. His eyes were darting left and right looking for his oldest son. His wife and daughter were lying dead on the elevated porch of his now burning basha in the center of the village.

Li was captured in an ambush set up for the Japanese by a rival village chief whose village was 10 miles away. The village chief, normally called a headman or duwa, had been feuding with Li for several months because his daughter, who was married to Li’s oldest son, had died in child birth. The headman held Li responsible for her death because Li had not summoning the girl’s mother to help with the delivery. The still grieving father was seeking revenge on Li, the duwa of his former son-in-law’s village, and was working with the Japanese.

In the limbs of the Banyan tree several dozen monkeys were scurrying about, unconcerned with the slaughter below. A monkey on a limb above Li stopped to urinate and a shower of yellow urine fell on his head and his wounded leg. Despite the pain from the salty urine soaking through the blood soaked cloth, Li did not stir. He was waiting for what would happen next.

A Japanese sergeant was squatting ten feet from Li, whittling long, thin slivers of bamboo from a larger piece. The eyes of the Jap looked straight at Li and an ominous smile parted his lips, Li was familiar with the torture that the soldier was planning. Most likely he would insert one of the bamboo slivers up his penis and light it. He would then stand back and watch the flame burn all the way to and into his penis. Li’s entire body shuddered at the thought.

Before the sergeant could start his torture, several Japanese soldiers dragged a male villager toward them. When they tossed him on the ground, Li saw that it was his son, his heir and the soon to be village duwa, once Li died and if they let his son live. The Japanese, however, had something else in mind.

The Kachin’s historical enemy, another Burmese tribe called the Shan, had advised the Japanese that they could subdue the majority of Kachin villages by carrying out ferocious attacks on two or three villages. They proposed that raping the women, killing the young children, burning the village and mutilating the teenage boys, would be enough to prove to the Kachin that the Japanese were superior and stronger warriors and therefore, the Kachin would leave the Japanese alone to their conquest of Burma.

Li watched as two Japanese soldiers held the arms and legs of his son. A sergeant, now with a large knife, reached down and cut off his son’s testicles and stuffed them into his mouth. While his son writhed in front of him, the Japanese fell back into formation and marched out of the village. The only people left living were Li, his son and a dozen young males whose genitalia had also been mutilated.

The weeks that followed were a blur for Li. His son and all but one of the mutilated young males developed gangrene and died. Li nearly died of blood loss, but a few villagers who fled when the Japanese entered the village, returned and nursed him back to health.

The terror that the Japanese hoped to inflict into the remaining Kachin villages was not going to work. After Li recovered, he went to the ten closest Kachin villages, gathered all the able males and began a reign of terror on the Japanese occupiers. Along trails that the Japanese used, the Kachin would set punji stick traps on either side of the trail. As Japanese patrols walked up a trails, Kachin tribesmen would spring an ambush. The Japanese soldiers would dive to the side of the trail to avoid being shot and would impale themselves on the hidden punji sticks.

The punji sticks were sharpened bamboo sticks whose tips were hardened by fire. The Kachin would push them into the ground on the side of the trail where an ambush would occur, cover the tips with animal or human feces and cover the sticks with leaves and vegetation. Those Japanese unfortunate to be impaled by a punji stick would develop a severe infection and die within two weeks. If the Japanese retreated and left dead soldiers behind, the Kachin would remove their ears. To the Taoist Japanese, this was an abomination, because according to their religion they were to be pulled into heaven by their ears. No ears, no heaven.

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