Crafting Culture: Arts and Crafts of Myanmar
by Andrea Johnson
Handicrafts in Myanmar are undervalued. Made with much precision and care, Myanmar craftwork is a form of art that represents the authentic expertise and skill of its people. From stone-carving, lacquerware, umbrella-making to marionettes, each craft has a long history of glory, with some dating back to the early 1800s. As one of Myanmar’s hidden treasures, these crafts make up the country’s cultural identity as well as heritage.
Tourists can easily find Buddha images crafted on smooth stones. This is actually a very meticulous art that requires precise skill and a strong imagination. Some creative carvers sculpt animal images such as elephants, deer and flowers, so tourists’ options are not only limited to Buddha images or inscriptions.
Pante (Copper and Bronze Smithing)
The art of copper and bronze smithing is said to have appeared long before the Bagan period. Copper bells were shaped by skilled artisans and they are used for religious purposes. Copper bells that are struck at temples indicate the good deeds done by someone. There are also copper and brass gongs, alms bowls for the monks, cups and also cymbals, but tourists usually buy small copper bells as souvenirs.
Lacquerware is big in Myanmar. Locals in Myanmar can be spotted carrying around cigar boxes, and these are usually lacquerware products. Bamboos are crafted into specific shapes and are glazed with black paint to provide an extra shine to the finished product. Designs are mainly drawn by hand, so one can expect their lacquerware souvenir to have original and hand-drawn designs.
Panpoot (Wooden Crafts)
In Myanmar, wooden crafts are made using a lathe turner. The traditional instrument will shape the wood when the artisan pulls and pushes a long rope tied to the piece. Wood can be crafted into an assortment of shapes and sizes, making this one of the more popular souvenirs sought after by tourists.
Anyone who has been to Pathein will notice the abundance of colourful umbrellas of all shapes and sizes sold at shops and displayed places of interest. Pathein is a delta region in Myanmar that produces umbrellas of the finest authentic quality. These rain-proof traditional umbrellas require many steps and are handled by multiple people. Also made by hand, these umbrellas are crafted with extreme detail and care to ensure that each of them are long-lasting.
The art of marionettes is admirable. High levels of patience and skill are required to produce a fully-functioning puppet from scratch. The intricate process of making the clothes and drawing faces on the marionettes are all done by hand, and this art is slowly fading, so be sure to witness the process of marionette-making while there are still skilled experts available to demonstrate.
All of Myanmar’s handicrafts are made with passion even though decades have passed. Locals are still dedicated to produce handicrafts of excellent quality each time. Tourists visiting Myanmar can observe how these handicrafts are made, and contribute to the locals’ income by purchasing these amazing handicrafts.