Myanmar is a wealth of different cultures. If you are looking to experience the cultural side of it, we promise to make you happy. There are 135 distinct ethnic groups in Myanmar with their own culture and traditions. It is reflected in everything they do: cuisine, dressing, faith, occupation and much more. We welcome you to enjoy the diversity of Myanmar’s traditions.
WELL-KNOWN ARTS & CRAFTS
Panchi refers to the art of painting that illustrates live animals and inanimate objects using different colours. Artists paint the figures of human beings, animals, objects, drawings, scenery designs, cartoons and caricatures human scene. These paintings originated from Bagan and hold a lot of influence of Buddhism. If you want to explore paintings in particular, you should visit Bagan where you will find ancient traditional paintings and masterpiece of A.D 11th Century. Wall painting sculptures in Bagan are the best representations of Panchi. Paintings of Konbaung Period are lively, beautiful and colourful, especially the wall paintings in Mahamyatmuni Pagoda at Mandalay which are sculptures of Yadanarpon Period.
THE ART OF WEAVING
SILK & COTTON WEAVING INDUSTRY
Silk and cotton weaving is one of the main professions of the Amarapura and Bagan People. The cotton is mostly grown in Central Myanmar. First, they make the cotton thread from raw cotton by using a machine, which is operated by hand and weave on the international wooden loom. Over one hundred looms are used to create beautiful and intricate designs and patterns as silk wear is worn in special and ceremonial occasions. Being a famous and interesting cottage industry, this is something you should definitely experience.
LOTUS WEAVING AT INLE LAKE
One of the highlights from Inle Lake is the lotus weaving industry. Lotus weaving is the main profession for many people who live near Inle Lake. Many years ago, women from Inle began weaving textiles using fabrics obtained from lotus flowers. There are many villages where this art is practiced out of which Phaw Kone and Kyaing Khan Villages are most famous. You can visit these villages to understand how this art is done.
The whole process from the beginning to the end is really amazing. Most old women cut the lotus stem into small pieces and extract fibre by hand using a knife. Then these fibres are moistened and rolled together to obtain threads. To finally produce the long, fine threads used to weave lotus, the above process is repeated again and again. Workers need to be very patient because all the processes are equally important. This industry is very labour intensive and hence lotus weaving products are among the most expensive textile products in the world. They are ideal for gifting.
MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS & TRADITIONAL DANCE
The pot-drum (Oo zi) is a single-headed drum on a long hollow stalk which is flared at the bottom. That single head has a membrane tightly stretched over a round frame. The pot drum is tuned by sticking a piece of tuning dough made of rice and ash to the head. The pot-drum is the chief instrument for the lively pot-drum dance and is played for group dancers as well. Though the pot-drum is single-headed, it can be played to produce a complete set of sounds.
TRADITIONAL DANCES AND FOLK DANCES OF MYANMAR
Traditional dance in Myanmar is supple, graceful, elaborate, well-refined and floral. What makes it even more unique is that every dance movement draws inspiration from flowers. A flower is believed to resemble a dancer. The bloom is the head. The leaves are the hands and the stem the body. In the gust of a gentle breeze, the flower comes alive and dances to the accompaniment of nature. This purity of movement often forms the foundation of traditional dance in Myanmar.
Based on the changing seasons and fertile lands, folk dance in Myanmar has always been an integral part of farming communities. As such, most folk dances reflect everyday life with songs and lyrics that flow with the movement of the dancer. A popular folk dance is U Shwe Yoe, a comic act that portrays the dancer dressed as a typical Myanmar gentleman with a long neatly trimmed moustache holding a Pathein Parasol, a scarf around his neck, a spotted turban or headgear, and a square patterned sarong around his waist. In the dance, he makes comic faces as he holds a lady’s gestures that dramatize his search for a young attractive girl. Always a popular act, his antics are an eagerly anticipated item on every agenda.
Chinlone, also known as cane ball, is the traditional, national sport of Myanmar and a combination of sports and dance. It is a completely non-competitive game, with typically six people playing together as one team, with no opposing teams. Although there is no competition, it is a highly demanding sport that requires skill and teamwork. The ball they use is usually made from hand-woven rattan (called Chinlone). It is played by individuals passing the ball between each other within a circle, without using their hands. One of the six players moves to the centre of the circle while all other players try to assist him or her by passing the ball that he strikes back to him in a single attempt. The important point of the game is to keep the ball in the air without hitting the ground as much as possible. While playing, a traditional orchestra plays motivational songs and the crowd cheers the players to give their best. An Annual Waso Chinlone Festival is held in a small stadium off the famous Maha Myat Muni Pagoda in Mandalay. This festival takes place for a month around the full moon of Waso.
Tattooed women are one of the main attraction of Myanmar. Each ethnic group has its own pattern which distinguishes them from one another. No one knows exactly how the custom originated, but one theory is that the tattoos began years ago as a form of identification when women were captured or kidnapped by neighbouring tribes. Another legend is that the tattoos were a way of intentionally disfiguring the woman’s beauty so that they would not be taken to marriage by the Burmese King. Most of them got their tattoos when they were around 12 years old. The whole process can take up to 3 days. The tattoo needles are usually made from bamboo skewers or from thorns. The ink is a mixture of ox bile, soot, plants and lard. The Chin Women are famed for their tattooed faces. Although the tradition of tattooing faces is disappearing, it is still prominent in the southern part of the state, particularly in Mindat and Kanpetlet.
A traditional artefact of the country and something that the locals are proud of are Marionettes – Myanmarese puppets. Spend a little time and you may find one that has been discarded from a show. Marionettes showcase character and often have their own story to tell. Beautifully handcrafted, these make wonderful mementoes of your adventures in Myanmar. Puppets or marionettes formed the ‘Yoke-the Pew’ or marionette theatre which entertained kings and royalty during the 18th century.
A standard troupe consists of 28 puppets comprising of a cast of animals, kings and queens, courtiers, princes, and clowns. Plots are usually taken from the 550 Jatakas, or from the Ramayana handling these marionettes. The puppeteers also provide the essential accompaniments of songs and narrative to make a complete performance. A rare art of form, marionette theatres still exist in small pockets across the country and is a treat you wouldn’t want to miss.