Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Burmese traditions

This country preserves old traditions forgotten in other countries of Asia like the longyi wearing, the betel leaf chewing and the thanaka paste face colouring. 

The longy is the traditional clothing of the locals, both men and women. It is a cylindrical shape cloth, quite large which is worn like a long skirt. For men, there is only one knot which holds the material together. It is not easy to learn how to correctly fold the material and make a knot which lasts. At the markets there are plenty of fabrics with different patterns from the regions of Myanmar.

The women usually make a shirt or a blouse from the same material. Cotton is the main fabric and the ones made out of silk are the most expensive. That is why they are worn only on special occasions. The silk for the fabrics comes mainly from the Inle Lake region.

The betel leaf chewing is another habit of the locals. It is rather distasteful. In several ways. People, predominantly men, chew leaves from the betel tree-climbing vine combined with other ingredients like areca nut or tobacco and mineral lime (a white paste which is applied with a brush on the leaves). It seems the betel leaf is a stimulant and some say that chewed in large quantities gives you a sort of dizziness. I hope not because every taxi driver is chewing it!

I will not insist on describing how the people (predominantly men) clear their throat and spit the red paste. Sometimes you have to pay attention as the people are used to spit even from passing buses. Often, the men lean out of the windows of the bus to be in a convenient position to empty their mouth. You will notice red spots on the streets and sideways. It looks like dried or clotted blood! One recognises the people who chew betel by the stained and decayed teeth.

You will notice taxi drivers speaking with difficulty because of the red saliva they have to spit. And sometimes you will smell the betel especially if you are in a closed and hot place with people chewing it. 

In many countries in South East Asia, the betel chewing tradition has decreased or you can find it only in villages. It is the case of Thailand or Bangladesh. I heard that in Bangkok some years ago they introduced fines for people spitting the betel juice in public spaces. 

In Yangon you still see most of the men chewing but as many things change here in a fast pace I believe that most of the young generation will not pick up this habit from their fathers. 

I will pass now to the thanaka paste used for face panting which is an interesting and more pleasant habit. The yellowish-cream paste is obtained by grinding the bark of the thanaka tree with a few drops of water on a circular stone. 

It is used especially by women to paint their face in order to be hydrated and protected from the sun. It also provides a cool feeling to the skin. It has a pleasant fragrance. The more you are exposed to the sun the more you will colour your face with the paste. Thus, some workers, like gardeners will have the whole face yellowish painted.

In the main touristic places and hotels you can find a description on how to use the thanaka.

You can buy thanaka wood pieces in all markets; they even can apply a first layer for you to show how it is done. In Bogyoke market you can find creams made out of thanaka. It is said that thanaka also helps removing acne and it is an anti-fungal. The thanaka wood is also found in small handicrafts such as boxes or combs. 

The mothers paint their children's faces in the morning and they look really sweet (in the 3rd picture below I photograped a young boy going to school. He was just happy I noticed the funny painting on his face). Thanaka face painting is also a beauty sign for young ladies. Sometimes you admire some elaborate patterns on women's faces.

These traditions are part of the national identity of the Burmese people and will stay with their culture for the years to come.

1 comment:

  1. Good to read about tradition of other country, Loved the post, thank you for sharing it with us and keep posting