By Kyaw Lin Thu
Silk and Cotton Weaving Industry of Amarapura City
The weaving industry is the main source of income of the city of Amarapura, which means the city of Immortality. Amarapura City is famous for its beautiful and intricate Lun Yar Kyaw Achiek Longyi since its complicated weaving method is so different from the other parts of the world. LunYarKyaw Acheik longyi is one of the famous traditional costumes of Myanmar and also a trademark of Amarapura City.
Amarapura, which was the old capital of KonBaung Dynasty around 1783 AD, is also known as the city of immortality. It is located 11 kilometers south of Mandalay. In 1784, Thadoe Minsaw, the crown prince of Amarapura, the heir of King Badon has led the royal armies and invaded Arakan State. The capital of Arakan, Mrauk U was occupied in the last days of 1784. After conquered Arakan, the Mahamuni Buddha Image and the Khmer Bronze statues were brought back to Amarapura as a reward of victory. In 1802, the monarch of Arakan was attempting to establish a diplomatic relationship with King Bodon, and so he sent his daughter, the princess of Arakan, to Amarapura as a special present for King Badon. The princess brought 100 weavers families along with her since she’d like to wear her own traditional Arkannese longyi design. According to some scholars, the pieces of evidence of Burmese traditional achiek longyi have appeared in works of literature and poems of Nyaung Yan Dynasty (1600 – 1752). Thuzar Pyo which was written by Won Gyi PadaythaYarzar, the famous poet of Nyaung Yan era, shows some literature evidence that ‘acheik longyi is made by hand’ which means in Burmese ‘vufcsdwf,ufonf ‘ . But, at that time Burmese traditional patterns were based on simple and squared patterns while the Arakanese traditional patterns were based on the design of waves, clouds, and mountains which are more attractive. Many years later, those Arakanese weaver families were mixed with local people and get the ideas to design the combination of Arakanese pattern and Myanmar traditional pattern which is later known as Amarapura Acheik, Amarapura LunYarKyaw Acheik which means over 100-shuttles garment.
Making of Amarapura LunYarKyaw Acheik Longyi
Making a Burmese traditional acheik longyi is so complicated and possesses a uniqueness. To become a colorful Amarapura silk acheik longyi, it needs to be done two major operations. The first one is making silk threads from raw materials and the second one is weaving the silk threads obtained to form an amazing achiek longyi.
Making of silk threads from raw materials
In the process of making silk threads from raw materials, the raw materials of silk are obtained from the silkworm which is the caterpillar of the silk moth, Bombyx mori. The producing of silk by cultivation of silkworm is called sericulture. In the larval stage, the silkworm spin around itself to produce a silky cocoon by its two liquid glands through openings in the head called spinnerets. To extract the silk fibers from cocoons, the cocoons are needed to stoved to kill the worm inside before it emerges as the moth. Once the cocoons are stoved, they are soaked in hot water to loosen the sericin trapped in the fibers. Then, the cocoon is brushed to become a silk fiber. And the end of silk fibers is threaded through on the eyelet and reeled to a wheel. And the reeled silk is thrown and twisted to form the silk thread which is also called yarn. When they become the yarns, they are ready to ship to the weaving industries. Most of the silk used in Amarapura weaving industry is obtained from the cocoon farm in Pyin Oo Lwin city, 30km far from Mandalay.
Weaving process of LunYarKyaw
Basically, the threads are dyed before the weaving process. The threads are boiled and washed in the hot water which included soap or oil to soften the silk before the dying process. And chemical dyes are added into boiling water to extract the color they desired. The threads need to be dye about 30 minutes and rinse the excessive dyes by water repeatedly to get clean and smooth silk. After the dyed threads are dry up under the sunlight, they are ready for the spinning process. In the spinning process, the threads are spun into a big wheel and to the bobbins which are ready for weaving. Weaving is a method of fabric producing by interlacing two wets of yarn threads called warp and weft. To become a fabric, the longitudinal warp is held stationary tension by the loom while the horizontal weft is drawn through and inserted over and under the warp carried by shuttle. The most interesting thing here which makes the Amarapura Acheik (LunYarKyaw Acheik) to be unique and different from other parts of the world is, in the weaving of LunYarKyaw Achiek garment, the weavers use over 100 shuttles manually to become a complicated unique garment. This kind of weaving process is very rare and worth to spend your time visiting Amarapura’s weaving industries. As a result, the outcome garment is so beautiful and unique but it takes 18 to 25 days to get a 2m length acheik longyi based on the pattern and design on the work power of 2 women.
Where do the Achiek Longyi is worn?
Most of Myanmar people proudly wear longyi in their daily lives. Longyi is a national icon and also a treasure of traditional costumes. The term longyi refers to this nether garment for both men and women. The longyi worn by men is called ‘Pasoe’ and the longyi worn by women is called
‘Hta Be’. Longyi is the garments that sown into a cylindrical shape and tie up at the waist level. Longyi is usually made up of cotton for everyday wear and made up of silk for formal wear. Myanmar people proudly wear Amarapura traditional silk acheik longyi for special occasions such as wedding ceremony, convocation ceremony, ambassador meeting, consecration ceremony, and other formal ceremonies.
Weaving industry also offers job opportunities
Since the weaving industry is the Amarapura’s main source of income, it offers thousands of job opportunities to the local people, especially women. Even the aged women can get a job since the nature industry is cable of working under the shade with low effort. They carried their traditional LunYarKyaw weaving method from generation to generation. Approximately 70% of the families of Amarapura are earning from the weaving industry. To improve the weaving industry of Amarapura, there is also a vocational institute for weaving called Saunders Weaving and Vocational Institute where students can learn several subjects associated with weaving. The employees who are working in the weaving industries are mostly young females. To become a professional weaver, beginners need to learn six months as no-paid intern. After six months of learning, she starts working as a paid-intern for 2 years and then becomes a professional weaver.
Where can we see the process of weaving in Amarapura?
There are several weaving workshops at Amarapura but most of them are small cottage industries and home workshops. Based on my personal experiences, I would like to recommend to pay a visit to Thein Nyo Weaving workshop since it offers a nice and friendly atmosphere for visitors. Visitors can see the whole process of weaving from boiling and dying of threads to the final acheik longyi. It is more looks like a family business than an industry. Visitors can see groups of young ladies wearing traditional Thanakkhar are working in harmony and offer an adorable smile at you while you are experiencing their beautiful artwork. Most of tourists and visitors come and spend their time at a weaving workshop and they seem to be very interested in its working nature. The whole workshop is full of “click-clack” sounds which you will not hear such a beautiful rhythm in your daily basic. Visitors also love the showroom owned by Thein Nyo weaving which displays various designs of famous Amarapura Acheik longyi. The prices of Acheik longyi can be different based on the pattern design and quality and proportion of silk, 100% pure silk can be from 40$ to 1000 $, 50% of silk and cotton can be from 20$ to 200$ and 100% pure cotton can be 5$ to 20$. They also show other small souvenirs for ladies which are not expensive like the handbags decorated with achiek patterns and other souvenirs for men too. It would be a good idea to buy a souvenir for your beloved ones or for yourself since it can be available only in Amarapura. After all, Amarapura’s weaving workshops are such good places to see the souls of local people and their ways of making lives. Weaving industries are showing the passion, tradition, and art of the local peoples and also a must-visit place to spend your time wisely and explore new experiences on your trip or your vacation.