By THE IRRAWADDY
An autobiography of Zoya Phan, a daughter of Mahn Sha, the respected Karen leader who was assassinated by unknown gunmen in a Thai border town last year, is to be launched next week in London.
"My father marked the day of my birth with a traditional animist ceremony,” wrote Zoya, who is now 28 and lives in London, working for the human rights organization Burma Campaign UK.
“He buried my umbilical cord under an ancient giant of a tree, and then he prayed for his Little Daughter. He prayed to the tree spirit on the mountaintop, because it is high and has vision and can see into the future. He prayed that when I grew up I would be strong, and that I would help my country and my people."
Zoya was born in the remote jungle territory of the ethnic Karen, who have been resisting Burmese government oppression for more than 60 years. Her mother was a guerrilla soldier, her father a freedom activist.
Zoya lived in a bamboo hut on stilts by the Moei River, on the Burmese-Thai border. In her autobiography, she recalls hunting for edible mushrooms with her much-loved adopted brother, Say Say.
Many Karen are Christian or Buddhist, but Zoya's parents were animist, venerating the spirits of the forest, river and moon.
Her early years were blissfully removed from the war, but when she was 14 her world was shattered by a Burmese army attack on her village. With their house in flames, Zoya and her family fled.
So began two terrible years of running from guns, as Zoya joined thousands of refugees hiding in the jungle. Her family scattered and Zoya sought sanctuary across the border in a Thai refugee camp.
She lived as a refugee on the Thai-Burmese border for many years and spent her teens in the camps. She was a gifted pupil and was eventually able to escape camp life, first to Bangkok and then, in 2004, fleeing to Britain, where she claimed asylum.
The following year, at a “free Burma” march, she was plucked from the crowd to appear on the BBC, the first of countless interviews with the world's media. She became the face of a nation enslaved, rubbing shoulders with presidents and film stars.
Her autobiography, titled “Little Daughter,” is described as an uplifting, tragic and entirely gripping true story of a girl from the jungle who became an icon of a suffering land.
"Little Daughter" will be published on April 20 by London-based Simon & Schuster, Inc., one of the four largest English language publishers, alongside Random House, Penguin and HarperCollins.