Power in the former Shan states was in the hands of the Sawbwas (Shan chieftains or princes) who resided in haws (palaces). The haw in Hsipaw is on the few remaining
haws that are still well preserved. It was originally built in 1924 by the then crown prince, Saw Onhkya (1928-1938), who had just returned from his studies at Oxford.
Imbued with western ideas and impressed with their advanced technology, he had a European style mansion built, including a pagoda for private worship that was in the style of a western pavilion.
It is an architecturally interesting two story building with bay windows and wide covered verandas, the upper one supported by five attractive pillars, where the family could sit out and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the distant hills and the nearby winding Namtu River known as the Myitnge or Dokhtawaddy in its lower reaches before it joins the main Ayeyawady river.
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He has also established the first time in Hsipaw School for girls, a bazaar and round the clock electricity. The original architecture of Saw Onhkya’s haw is intact, but the swimming pool and tennis courts are in a state of disrepair. The haw is now the home of the nephew of the last Sawbwa of Hsipaw who, like the other Shan Sawbwas, gave up his title in the 1960’s. The last Sawbwa had lived in an even older haw that had been built before the turn of the century in a neighboring compound, but this was destroyed by bombing during World War II.
The nephew of the last Sawbwa and his wife are a fount of knowledge Shan history. Still possessing a regal air, the congenial couple has nevertheless come to terms with the loss of power that the hereditary chieftains once held. It must have been substantial since the Shan Princes practically ruled over the entire fiefdoms.