A Unique Traditional Handicraft: Lacquerware
By Tin Phyo Aung
Myanmar lacquerware was founded approximately in the 10th century, at the period of Bagan Kingdom and it has a unique style. Bagan is the main center of the Lacquerware industry. Lacquerware was used as the kitchen wares, Tablewares, Boxes and decorations until now. Lacquer means the “Thitse” in Myanmar Language which was obtained from the tree “Rhus Verniciflua” species. These species origin from China and grow in the hilly region in Myanmar especially in Shan State. Resins are extracted from these trees and are used for major coating and varnishing processes in lacquerware products. Lacquerware is called “Yun-Dae” in Myanmar and is one of the “Ten Flowers” which means “Traditional Arts and Crafts of Myanmar”. These “Ten Traditional Arts and Crafts” are Pan-Be (Blacksmith), Pan-Tain (Silver and Goldsmith), Pan-Bu (Wood Carving or Sculpture), Pan-Chi (Painting), Pan-Yun (Lacquerware), Pan-Poot (Turner), Pan-Taut (Floral Stucco embossed), Pan-Tamaut (Stone Carving or Sculpture), Pan-Yan (Masonry) and Pan-Te (Bronze Casting).
Lacquerware was usually made by the bamboo and wood as a framework. It has a lot of making processes to get a fine item and takes four or five months.
The raw materials to make a frame of lacquerware are bamboo and wood. The curve or cylindrical items are made with bamboo. Likes boxes, trays are crafted with wood. Firstly, to get an inner part of lacquerware, bamboos are cut, softened into thin layers and drawn up to get the desired objects by craftsman. This process is very detail and very skillful.
Coating, Polishing, and Drying
The inner parts of the lacquerware are shaped into the desired object, these items have to be covered with “Thayoe” (Mixture of beef bone ash and Lacquer sap). This process is carried out by hands and the craftsman cares the smoothness of layers. Sometimes they use fine gloves. It needs at least seven times to be applied with “Thayoe”. The number of layers determine the quality of lacquerware. This object takes time mostly three days to dry after each layer of the “Thayoe” is applied and after that smoothening with sandpaper which must be an important step. And then the final coating process is carried out with the pure lacquer sap. This process will give the shining black lacquerware object and this object is kept for a week to dry in the underground store. There are different production methods among the workshops.
After finishing all stages of these items, engraving is done by free-hand (without any designing tools). Artists decorate the lacquerware with Myanmar floral designs and Buddha’s scriptures known as Jataka stories. Usually, men are etching the sketch and women decorate in that. After these etching items are coated with desired colors for three days, removed the unnecessary by washing with water. Then the colors are remaining in etch line on lacquerware.
There are other ways of decoration by using bronze and palm leaves and also some objects are even gilded with gold. The popular designs of lacquerwares are Soun-aote, La Phat Goke (tea leaf salad box), betel box, cups, plates, boxes, kittles and trays.
This industry provides the residents as one of the major employment centers. People do Lacquerware as a family business. There are also a lot of workshops at Bagan where tourists can observe and also small shops around the Pagodas’ corridors. They keep the creation of lacquerwares into various designs. Mostly tourists lovely to buy small objects because it is easy to carry while the locals buy traditional accessories and furniture. Lacquerware is very detailed and artistic products and represents the most famous unique handicraft of Myanmar and it is one of the must-see activities at Bagan.