(Sao Pha)
   The Burmese (Myanmar) language rendition of the Shan language word sao pha (chao fa in the Thai language), literally meaning "lord of the heavens" and referring to the hereditary rulers of the Shan States of eastern Burma or, more broadly, also to the rulers of Shan (Tai)-dominated polities found in other parts of Burma and neighboring countries, including China's Yunnan Province. The term is most frequently used to refer to the 14-16 rulers of the major Shan States during the British colonial period who, together with other rulers of lower rank, myosa and ngwekhunhmu, were sometimes collectively called Saophalong (Burmese, Sawbwagyi), "great lords." The rulers enjoyed a measure of autonomy under the British, although their powers were significantly reduced by the establishment of the Federated Shan States in 1922. Before they relinquished their "feudal" authority to the Union of Burma in April 1959, the sawbwa maintained their own courts, haw (royal palaces), and local administrations, although they were carefully supervised by officials of the colonial government. The Burmese, strongly influenced by socialist ideology, tended to view the traditionally minded sawbwa as feudal relics who exploited their downtrodden subjects, but in fact many of them were well educated, quite popular, and played important roles in national politics during the U Nu period and the Shan resistance against the Ne Win regime. These included Sao Shwe Taik, sawbwa of Yawnghwe, who was the first president of the Union of Burma, and his wife, the Yawnghwe Mahadevi (a title for the sawbwa's wife) Sao Nang Hearn Kham, who served as leader of the first Shan State Army, established in 1964.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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