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T R AV E L / T R A DI T ION / P E OP L E / P R I DE January 2019 · March 2019

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Vol. 1, Issue 1

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JArr LAN ISLAND

MU KAUN

KAYLARTHA

Home of the seafaring Salone; a proud past and hopeful future

The face behind a circus poster and her long journey around the world

A pagoda woven in history and shrouded in mystery

BEAUTY BEGINS IN SHAN STATE PINLAUNG, WHERE THE PA’O AND SHAN LIVE IN HARMONY: NOURISHING MYANMAR

DISCOVER MYANMAR MAGAZINE / ALSO IN THIS ISSUE:

A LOOK AT MYANMAR’S MOST UNDERRATED CROP·THE

SHWE PYI NANN THANAKHA HISTORY MUSEUM · KAYAH STATE’S MOST ICONIC LANDMARK·MON CUISINE·PHAN KHONE DAN


w w w. d i s c ov e r my a n m a r m a g a z i n e . c om


DISCOVER MYANMAR MAGAZINE

CONTENTS 34

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BEAUTY BEGINS IN SHAN STATE

JARR LAN ISLAND

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KAYLARTHA PAGODA

11

SHWE PYI WOOD CARVING MUSEUM

16

MON CUISINE

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MORE THAN A SIDE SHOW FREAK: MU KAUN

We Salone are born, live, and die on our boats. The umbilical cords of our children plunge to the sea.

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PHAN KHONE DAN

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ALL HAIL THE MIGHTY PEANUT

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TAUNG KWE PAGODA: LOIKAW’S MOST ICONIC LAND MARK

66

ODE TO THANAKHA

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educational, and enlightening for you, our reader. To achieve this goal, we cover stories that interest us, trusting that you will find the information inside fascinating, as well. Through the sections, you will uncover a varied collection of lost stories, ethnic recipes, and travel highlights. Ye Myat Tun takes us to a remote Salone village in the Myeik Islands, while Daniel Wine shares an intriguing story of a mysterious lady in a circus poster. Jana Mon’s Head Chef, Mi Shan Mu, tells us what to eat, while I get a chance to tour Myanmar’s largest wood carving museum. We also have features on the gateway city to Shan State, Kayah State’s most iconic landmark, a traditional children’s game, and a nod to Myanmar’s most underrated crop.

BRITTNEY MITCHEM TUN EDITOR IN CHIEF

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EDITORIAL LET TER TO THE READER:

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elcome to the first edition of Discover Myanmar, our new quarterly conceived for the purpose of highlighting and exalting Myanmar’s lands, her people, traditions, and history. We look for the stories behind the story in our search to fill

these pages with “People, Pride, Tradition, and Travel.” It is a great honor to be the first Editor in Chief of Discover Myanmar and help bring this labor of love and pride to fruition. As the Discover Myanmar team has come together in these last few months, we have learned from one another what a magazine can be. We have traveled the country to bring together stories that are entertaining,

DISCOVER MYANMAR MAGAZINE VOLUME 1, ISSUE 1 EDITOR IN CHIEF - BRITTNEY MITCHEM TUN CONTRIBUTING EDITOR - JESSICA SNYDER PHOTOGRAPHER - YE MYAT TUN

If there are any topics you would like to see covered in the future, or if you have any stories that you would like to share with us, do let us know. -Brittney Mitchem Tun

January 2019 - March 2019

ILLUSTRATOR - BRITTNEY MITCHEM TUN GRAPHIC DESIGN - YE MYAT TUN CONTRIBUTORS - DANIEL WINE/ MI SHAN MU


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KAYLARTHA PAGODA MON STATE Photographs and Story by YE MYAT TUN

“Not just any stupa and not just any mountain, Kaylartha’s story is woven in history and shrouded in mystery.“


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he soles of my feet were sticking in place; the blazing white tiles instantly seared flesh with each step of my clockwise path. At over 1,600 feet (490 meters), the summit of Kaylartha Mountain is kissed by a regular breeze from the Gulf of Mottama (Martaban) to the west, but the Mon sun shines mercilessly on the exposed surface. Shoes are forbidden; this is holy ground. I took refuge under a shaded platform and shuffled my feet on the cool floor. Soles sufficiently alleviated, I turned and prostrated myself before the golden stupa rising above me. I stood after the customary three bows and gazed up reverently at the structure and its surroundings. Not just any stupa and not just any mountain, Kaylartha’s story is woven in history and shrouded in mystery. The contiguous countryside below was fairly uninhabited, full of farmland to the back of beyond and dotted with just an occasional village. In the quiet of the mountain with nary a sound except that of a bell resounding in three sets of three, it was incredible to fathom that legend surrounded me. The nearest city, Belin, lies to the east about an hour away, but buried at the foot of the mountain are the vestiges of the fabled Kingdom of Gold, Thuwunna Bonmi (Suvarnabhumi), which lay between the mouths of the Sittaung (Sittang) and Thanlwin (Salween) Rivers. As with the story of the Pa’O, the tale of Thuwunna Bonmi begins with a love affair between a naga (dragon) and a weizza (wizard). In U Sann’s History of Hsandawshin Kyaikhtiyoe Pagoda, a detailed account is given of the Hermit Tissa, who found two dragon eggs while wandering about. He gave one of the eggs to his brother Thiha (also a hermit) who lived on Mt. Zwegabin and took the other with him on top of Zinkyaik Mountain. After some time and tender love and care, the eggs hatched, and two twin boys were “born.”

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uddha proceeded to Kaylartha, where he gave sermons for a week and eventually gave out his hairs to six hermits (including Tissa and Thiha) and two belu (ogre) brothers.

K Tissa and Thiha raised their adopted sons in a secluded fashion until the untimely death of the youngest twin, Thiha’s charge, at the age of ten. The eldest twin, Thuriaya Kumaya, learned the ways of meditation and high court from Tissa, who had once renounced his life as a prince of a nearby kingdom. It was when Tissa’s own father, King Tissa Dama Yaza, passed away that his court approached Tissa with a request that he come down from Zinkyaik Mountain to rule his former kingdom. He and his brother Thiha refused to return to rule and offered up their adopted son, Thuriaya Kumaya, in their stead. Tissa and Thiha returned to their old kingdom briefly to escort Thuriaya Kumaya to his new home. After cremating their father’s remains, they suggested moving the kingdom and giving Thuriaya Kumaya a new land to rule. This was the start of the Kingdom of Thaton, or Thuwunna Bonmi. Thuriaya Kuma-

ya, the Naga Weizza (Dragon Wizard), would henceforth be known as King Tissa Dama Thiya Yazar. I descended the steps of the pagoda to the much cooler compound below. The sayadaw (resident abbot) was inside his chamber, greeting a local pilgrim. Someone had spread some rice out on a newspaper and a group of monkeys was buffaloing some stray puppies that were attempting to have a go at it. The food offered to pilgrims and animals on the mountain is completely vegetarian fare. This mountain and its neighbor, Myathabeik, were under the care of the late Kyaikhtisaung Sayadaw, who had extolled the virtues of a meatless lifestyle. In the open-air kitchen down below, the volunteer cooks prepare fresh meals for the sayadaw and monks, who take their last meal of the day before noon.


The resident abbots of Kaylartha and Myathabeik not only continue the prescribed diet of their late master, but also his account of the histories of both mountains. These are clarified in the biography, Ashin Pannadipa and His Exertions. Within these pages, Ds. Anatta recounts the teachings of the Kyaikhtisaung Sayadaw regarding Gautama Buddha’s visit to Myathabeik and Kaylartha Mountains. In the year 110 Great Era, Gavampati, an arahat (person who has achieved enlightenment) who lived in Mijjima Desa (India), visited Thuwunna Bonmi. He wanted to pay homage to Tissa, Thiha, and King Tissa Dama Thiya Yazar; the reason being that they were his close relatives in his past life. Upon inquiring further about the lives of Tissa and Thiha, the current Myathabeik Sayadaw told me that he was indeed the reincarnated youngest brother of King Tissa Dama Thiya Yazar, who had died at the age of ten from smallpox while in the care of the hermit Thiha on Mt. Zwegabin. Tissa, Thiha, and King Tissa Dama Thiya Yazar asked the young Gavampati to

tell Gautama Buddha that they would dearly love to see him. Gavampati conceded and expressed their wish to Buddha himself. Upon his request, In the year 111 Great Era, Buddha landed on Myathabeik Mountain. A female nat (divine spirit) offered him an emerald alms bowl (called a myathabeik, thus the name of the mountain). After receiving the bowl, Buddha proceeded to Kaylartha, where he gave sermons for a week and eventually gave out his hairs to six hermits (including Tissa and Thiha) and two belu (ogre) brothers. These hairs are now enshrined in various mountaintop pagodas, including Kaylartha, where I was resting peacefully under a centuries-old Bodhi Tree, waiting for my turn to visit the sayadaw. When the first guest left the abbot’s chamber, I went in, stooping respectfully as I crossed the threshold. We’ve known each other for nearly thirty years, back when I was a young phothudaw (acolyte in the Buddhist faith who wears white garments) and he was a hermit. He offered a can of Red Bull and we reminisced before I returned down the mountain, back to the secular world.

K MONKEYS RUN THE SHOW At the summit of Kaylartha, monkeys bully dogs and humans alike as they forage for scraps and whisk away snacks tossed to them. All food on the mountain is vegetarian.

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SHWE PYI

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WOOD CARVING MUSEUM

By BRITTNEY MITCHEM TUN / Photographs by YE MYAT TUN

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bout 35 miles from Yangon in the direction of Bago sits a quiet little oasis off the busy highway. Beyond the dense roadside tree line lies the most hospitable roadhouse around, miles of biking trails stretching over an emerald-green lake, and rustic waterfront cabins. This sprawling 120-acre compound is surrounded by thick forests and is the home of the expansive Shwe Pyi Wood Carving Museum, the largest of its kind in Myanmar.

Upon accepting a much-needed welcome drink of fresh coconut juice, I met with one of the managers at Shwe Pyi Resort, Hla Min Thu, who offered me a guided tour of the museum. After polishing off some crispy fritters and tea leaf salad al fresco, we set out to the end of the property, where a total of 59 buildings housing around 30,000 sculptures awaited us.

“The museum you see is only about a year old,” Hla Min began, “but we’ve been collecting for a while. Some of these pieces are nearly 200 years old.” The carvings, housed by categories over a 4-acre plot, range in size from about a foot tall to towering figures more than a story high. “We have 21 active artists who supply our collection, all locals from the Darpaine area near Yangon. Every three to four months we get a shipment of smaller carvings. For the larger ones,

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we get new pieces in every seven months or so,” Hla Min Thu said. “Our Chairman, U Khin Maung Aye, wants to have the largest collection of its kind in the world,” he continued proudly. “That’s why we have collected timber and stumps left over from Hurricane Nargis for future carvings.” As I wove through the rows of the buildings, I grazed my fingertips past detailed figures carved from teak, rain tree, and padauk, whose buttery blooms are a national symbol of Myanmar. When I came upon a magnificent statue of three horses rearing into the sky, I stopped short. A mare, stallion, and their foal united in a grand display of pride and abandon. The exposed bellies of the beasts revealed rippling veins of life; their massive haunches powerful and convincing.

“This one is my favorite,” Hla Min Thu mused. “The artist is Ko Aung San Nyo, and he’s done other large sculptures here as well. His idea is great. When you look at this sculpture, you feel the love because the family is together like that….” His voice trailed off as he was admiring the massive piece. “I don’t know how to explain my feeling, but even our guests mention that they experience some emotion while looking at this one.” We continued on past collections of various canines, felines, bears, camels, dragons, lucky buddhas, and, my particular favorite, an assemblage of Pagan-style entertainers and legendary warriors. King Anawrahta was standing posed to strike beside a self-assured General Kyansittha. Surrounding them were sensual dancers with wooden bellies exposed, gracefully curved and rounded in pleasing rolls. We continued up the path to a shed housing an enormous sculpture of an Asian elephant. “This one is our largest,” said Hla Min Thu. It was huge all right, but all I could think about was the labor and resulting cost of fashioning such a behemoth. Fastened to various posts of the shed were fire extinguishers. A couple of beaming security guards were standing


S SHWE PYI’S LARGEST SCULPTURE This massive sculpture of an Asian elephant is surrounded by fire extinguishers and security guards.

nearby. “If I wanted to buy this,” I asked wryly, “how much would it set me back? Could I even afford to buy anything here?”

“They’re all for sale,” he replied earnestly, motioning his hands behind us to the rows of buildings. “They range from 1 lakh to 5,000 lakhs ($63-$315,150 USD).” We walked on, me circling piece after piece, Hla Min Thu chuckling at my shock as I came upon one great beast after another that was too anatomically correct. “How do you take care of them all?” I murmured, turning to him. “There are too many.” “

S “Our Chairman, U Khin Maung Aye, wants to have the largest collection of its kind in the world,” he continued proudly. “That’s why we have collected timber and stumps left over from Hurricane Nargis for future carvings.”

We employ seven cleaners who also evaluate the carvings daily,” he informed. “The staff charged with preserving the pieces record their condition and notify the artists if any repairs are needed.”

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As we walked back to the main island that housed the first sculptures of Shwe Pyi, some youth were sitting lakeside under the light of the pavilion and singing to the tune of their guitar. Lovers walked across the lake bridge in the distance and friends paddled around the lake in canoes and swan boats. Gazing over the water and buildings from the height of the restaurant, I cajoled myself to be satisfied with a cup of coffee for the moment and a determination to save up for a pretty set of carved chairs I spotted on the main island. The Shwe Pyi Wood Carving Museum is open daily from 8am to 5pm. There is an entrance fee of 2,000 kyats ($1.26 USD) for local and foreigners alike.

“A mare, stallion, and their foal united in a grand display of pride and abandon. The exposed bellies of the beasts revealed rippling veins of life; their massive haunches powerful and convincing.�


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FOOD

MON CUISINE JANA MON

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s one of the earliest peoples in mainland Southeast Asia, the Mon enjoy a proud history in Myanmar, having founded the Thaton Kingdom, or “Kingdom of Gold.” A highly cultured people, the Mon embraced Buddhism more than a thousand years before their Thai and Burmese neighbors, with stories of the Buddha himself landing on Mount Kaylartha in modern-day Mon State. The Mon people’s main source of livelihood comes from rice cultivation, but crops such as durian, sugar cane, pineapple,

Photographs by YE MYAT TUN

In this issue, Mi Shan Mu, the head chef at Jana Mon in Yangon, teaches us how to prepare a traditional Monstyle green papaya salad.


betel nut, and yams are grown in abundance. Traditional Mon cuisine includes a wealth of local and seasonal plant foods such as elephant apple, marian plum, and roselle. The food is light and fresh, with a focus on boiling techniques rather than frying. A generous usage of fermented marian plum, lemongrass, acacia concinna leaves, and jujube ensure that the food is succulent, aromatic, and zesty. For Mon cuisine, a blend of sour, salty and spicy flavors is considered optimal for curries. Because the region is close to the Andaman sea, an array of fresh seafood dishes characterizes local offerings, where shrimp paste is used to add a salty flavor to dishes and offers a good source of calcium and phosphorous.

RECIPE Shredded Green Papaya - 2 Cups Peeled Garlic - 2 Cloves Bird’s Eye Red Chili - 2 Each Fermented Marian Plum - 57 Grams

Sargussum Fungus- 85 Grams Vegetarian Dashi - 1 Teaspoon Soy Sauce - 2 Teaspoons Dry Shrimp Powder - 1 Teaspoon

PREPARATION Using a mortar and pestle, pound chilis and garlic together. Wash the fungus in distilled water; squeeze out the excess liquid. Combine all ingredients together in a mixing bowl; mix salad by hand. Garnish with sliced cucumber if desired.

C For Mon cuisine, a blend of sour, salty and spicy flavors is considered optimal for curries

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MORE THAN A SIDE SHOW FREAK PEOPLE

THE STORY OF MU KAUN

By- DANIEL WINE / Photographs by- YE MYAT TUN

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M A 1934 poster advertising Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus entertainer Mu Kaun, a Kayan Lahwi tribeswoman, labels her as a “Giraffe-Neck Woman” and “The Most Startling Discovery of the Century.”


M Young girls in bright makeup sit still as statues outside of their grandmother’s store, leaving room for a tourist to pose beside them.

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n November of last year, the Discover Myanmar team researched and shared images of advertising from old Burma. Most of these brought on nostalgia; some were bittersweet, others hilariously entertaining. Perhaps it was because of the team’s trip to a Kayan Lahwi site in Kayah State two months before, but I kept scanning over a 1934 poster of a rather passive-looking woman with long neck coils advertising the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. It looked innocuous enough at first glance,

but something rubbed me raw as I studied it. The woman’s neck length was exaggerated to cartoonish proportions. Touting that she was “the most startling discovery of the century,” the poster called her the “Giraffe-Neck Woman.” “Discovery for whom?”

I muttered to myself. Using the word “discovery” to refer to an exotic culture that has existed for centuries is rather asinine, akin to Columbus “discovering” the Americas where there were already native civilizations long established. The word reinforced the existing sentiment that this

“Discovery for whom?” I muttered to myself.

“giraffe woman’s” culture had no significance before it was “discovered” by, and made available to, the western world. Such hype words were the norm when the poster was put to print but do not fly so well today. Continuing on, the advert boasted that she was a “Royal Padaung,” going by the Shan term, which is considered pejorative by the Kayan Lahwi. What, I wondered, was a royal doing as a circus attraction? What was her title? “Princess Mu Kaun,” the post proclaimed— a princess they had objectified and likened to an animal.

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gain, I begged the question: Why was a royal princess from Burma performing for an American circus? Was this something she wanted? Did performing in a traveling circus fulfill some wish of hers to see to world? With whom did she socialize? Did she miss her native land? Did she ever return?

diana, was a circus that traveled across the United States in the late 19th and early part of the 20th century. It seemed the circus was destined for misery. In 1913, 21 years before Mu Kaun made her American debut, the circus lost eight elephants, 21 lions and tigers, and eight performing horses in a massive flood.

The Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, based in Peru, In-

Five years later, the circus was nearly wiped out

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somewhere near Hammond, Indiana, when a collision caused a fire that swept through the sleeping compartments of the circus train. That morning saw 86 deaths and 127 injured souls, some so badly burned that they could not be recognized. Business was business, and however callous, the show had to go on. Only two shows were cancelled, and the circus borrowed equipment and

performers from competing shows to pay the bills.

Pictured on the following page: Mu Ba, Mu Kaun, and Mu Proa learning how to apply show make-up upon landing in New York in 1933. A report in The Straits Times (Singapore) regarding a resolution passed by the Burmese Women’s League.

“Where,” we wondered, “are the men?”


Around the time that Mu Kaun joined, the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus had changed owners several times and was officially owned by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. The performers were now stationed on 35 acres of land outside of Baldwin Park, California, where they rode out the winters parked alongside a railroad spur, waiting for spring, when they’d hit the road again.

In her book, The Circus Age: Culture & Society Under the American Big Top, Janet Davis reports that Mu Kaun was not alone. Two other Kayan Lahwi women, Mu Proa and Mu Ba, accompanied her to the US. They first performed for Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey in 1933, then moved on to join the Hagenbeck-Wallace show the next year. Their recruiters mentioned that the women all

came from mountainous villages several hundred miles north of Mandalay. Mu Kaun and her companions agreed to travel to the United States after their families accepted gifts from the propitiating Ringling agents. Axes, canned fish, colorful fabrics, and silver rupees were proof enough of the agents’ credibility. The ladies were not royalty at all, just naïve village lasses. Mu Kaun and her friends

experienced the Great Depression, a time of extreme poverty and hardship in the United States. Yet, they seemed to fare quite well. In 1934, they posed for a picture with their brand-new Pontiac, stating that they planned to take it with them back home. They probably imagined themselves sitting pretty in that car — women of the world — returning to their village and making their old childhood

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friends

drool

with

envy.

Mu Kaun and her fellow tribeswomen had performed beside such names as lion tamer Clyde Beatty and rope twirler Irene Mann. However, they didn’t get much opportunity to speak to their colleagues. In an interview that Janet Davis conducted in 1994, Irene, who worked with them in 1933, recalled, ‘‘You didn’t get to know them . . . [they didn’t talk] . . .. That’s a pretty awful thing, to bring them all the way over and put them through that. After all, they are human beings.’’ Even with the social exclusion they endured, western life did seem to change them. They were pictured wearing lace-up shoes, playing cards, and learning how to apply show make-up upon landing in New York in 1933. In 1935, the women made it to London and joined the Bertram Mills Circus. Photographs from the time show them out and about in society, visiting tourist locations and chatting up police officers. That same year, Mu Proa gave birth in a British hospital. In 1936, they were joined by another Kayan Lahwi family. One of them, Mu Tha, was the paternal great aunt of Pascal Khoo Thwe, who wrote Land of Green Ghosts. The year she arrived, Mu Tha was pictured celebrating her 21st birthday in Folksstone, England. In his memoir, Pascal Khoo Thwe details how she was a fantastic storyteller and that at the time of his youth, her coils were 14 inches high.

Their arrival to England caused a great deal of excitement and publicity, which reached all the way back to Burma. Their fame in the west as Burmese wonders was met with resentment at home. The Burmese Women’s League took great umbrage at the way the Kayan Lahwi women were advertised. The issue was not that they were compared to animals or draped in thin fabrics exposing their skin, but that they were labeled “Burmese.” This, to the Burmese Women’s League, “lowered the prestige of Burmese women.” For the high-ranking ladies of Burma, the insult was magnified because Burma was on the cusp of constitutional changes, the socialites striving to be viewed as modern and cultured. In his memoir, Pascal Khoo Thwe detailed how the women returned home from their British adventure with paper money, tales of tea-time rituals and complaints of the lack of rice wine. Years later, Khoo Thwe would travel to England himself. There, he was invited to view an art gallery housed in a seaside cottage. Among the many pieces, the young man saw a bronze bust of Wu Klai, one of his relatives who had traveled to England decades before him. Though these ladies happily returned to tell stories to their posterity, many Kayan Lahwi like them are still being employed as sideshow entertainment today. In Thailand, they are considered lucrative refugees. Women are encouraged to continue the practice of wearing their coils for the same reason Mu Kaun and her friends


were: tourists happily pay big bucks to witness a “giraffe woman” firsthand. In the village in Kayah State that the Discover Myanmar team visited in September last year, the women and children were no strangers to tourism. Elders wove shawls for display, their wares behind them on tables and hanging from the roofs of their shacks. Young girls, heavily clad in western make-up and elaborate thanakha, sat still as statues in the storefronts, a perfect photo op. Two sisters stationed at one stall sang songs and danced, attracting customers to their mother’s merchandise.

“Where,” we wondered, “are the men?” We were told that the village proper was a way off, and that the settlement my lot was visiting was simply a roadside market for local and foreign tourists. It is the same as in the 1930s, yet different. This time, the tourists gawking at the towering necks adorned with brass coils are often the women’s own countrymen, no longer indignant and wishing to separate themselves as more cultured, but fascinated and proud, getting a last view of a fading part of their own history.

The Discover Myanmar team visited a roadside Kayan Lahwi camp in September 2018. The camp was dominated by women; the village proper and the men were miles away, away from the public eye.

M The Kayan Lahwi women and children are no strangers to tourism. Elders in brightly colored garments weave dainty shawls for display, their wares behind them on tables and hanging from the roofs of their shacks.

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FLYING HIGH P In the village of Set Set Yo, boys and girls line up in a dry creek bed for a game of Phan Khone.


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GAME

PHAN KHONE Photographs by YE MYAT TUN

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t the mention of the game of Phan Khone, or “The High Jump Game,” Myanmar elders and those from rural areas crack a knowing and wistful smile. The younger generation and those from larger cities may scratch their heads, but this exhilarating game of physical dexterity warms the hearts of many in Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, it is known as Luksong-tinik, or “Jumping Over Thorns.” Known as Lot Kom Pous in the Khmer language of Cambodia, “The Worm Game” in Brunei, and Kilan in Indonesia, the game has different versions with micro rules that vary by country or province, although the main themes are the same. In the village of Set Set Yo, about an hour from Bagan, boys and girls alike split into two teams. Traditionally, the teams are made up of four to five players, but the more the merrier. For the version still popular in rural parts of Myanmar, teams take turns in offensive and defensive roles. The defensive team chooses two players to create a human obstacle for the offence, who in turn try to hop one-legged across the barrier.

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HOW TO PLAY... Children of all ages enjoy the game, as it becomes progressively more difficult with each round. The first round comprises of the defenders on the ground sitting facing each other with the soles of their feet touching, legs slightly spread. This round is a good confidence boost for the little ones in the village as they make a successful hop over the low-lying limbs. Those who pass the obstacle successfully earn a point for their team and get to advance to the next round. Those who fail by brushing the legs of the defenders, usually the smallest of the children, must sit out for the remainder of the game, left on the sidelines to admire the prowess of their elders. After all members of the offense have a go, it is time to advance to the next round. The hurdle is made a bit more difficult when the players on the ground adjust their

Children playing the last and most difficult round of Phan Khone Dan, wherein all four hands and feet are engaged to create a hurdle.


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position. They no longer touch the soles of each other’s feet, but instead bring their legs together. Now, the defense must hop over a wider space. A good running jump is made, and the player has yet another chance to secure a point or sit out. In the third round, the offence must focus on building up the height of their jump. The two players on the ground double the height of the hurdle by placing one leg above the other and once again touching the soles of their feet. In the fourth and fifth rounds, the obstacle is raised higher and higher as the defense adds a hand each per round, fingertips touching. They try their best to spread their fingers wide and high, thus creating a few precious inches of height to fend off the attack. When there are no attackers left, the teams switch places and start all over again.

Children of all ages enjoy playing Phan Khone. The first (easiest) round gives a boost of confidence to the smallest children as they make a successful hop over the low-lying limbs.

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Made In Myanmar www.facebook.com/winewinehandmadecollection


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BEAUTY BEGINS IN SHAN STATE Photographs by- YE MYAT TUN

Opened on November 5, 2010, Leinli Bridge brings highland farmers and ethic tribes together with the rest of Myanmar.


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TRAVEL

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ust a few years ago, getting to the scenic mountain town of Pinlaung, the primary city of Pinlaung Township, Shan State, was no easy feat. Those from the capital city of Naypyidaw, as well as southern and western Myanmar, wishing to trade with the highland farmers and ethnic tribes in the area were forced to brave the winding roads of Elephant Mountain and cross the Paunglaung River by boat. The river, known for its high-quality tilapia, originates at an elevation of 6,013 feet (1,833 meters) above sea level from Elephant Mountain, called Sin Taung in Burmese. It is home to the Upper and Lower Paunglaung Dams, which power the capital as well as many villages in rural Myanmar. In order to connect the people of Pinlaung and surrounding villages to Naypyidaw and the rest of Myanmar, the former government arranged for an expansive steel truss suspension bridge, the highest of its kind in Myanmar, to span the river to ease trade and travel. The State Peace and Development Council decided on a spot at mile post No. 42/5 on Nay Pyi Taw- Pinlaung Road near Leinli Village of Pinlaung Township in the south of Shan State and opened the Leinli Bridge on November 5, 2010, at a cost of 3.476 million in foreign currency and an additional 14,500 million kyats. The 274-foot high bridge is an inspiring sight. With breathtaking mountain views and a serene neighboring countryside, pedestrians can stroll the length of the 1,760-foot (536-meter)

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bridge, which is 28 feet (8.5 meters) wide and flanked with a 3-foot (.9-meter) pedestrian walkway on both sides. Withstanding loads up to 75 tons, the Leinli Bridge is the primary gateway for trade to the southern and western parts of the country from the fertile Pinlaung area. It is conveniently located I77 miles (123 kilometers) from the capital, Naypyidaw, or a good 2 1/2-hour drive. The drive to the commercial city of Yangon, 300 miles (482 kilometers) south of the bridge, is roughly 7 hours. Though crossing the Paunglaung River is no longer a major obstacle, the winding mountain roads remain. Pinlaung is just 24 miles (38 kilometers) away, but the snaking roads make the drive there a bit more than 1 hour. Before even reaching the bridge, the drive down the

mountain toward the Paunglaung Valley is highly taxing on brake systems and drivers must take caution to not overheat them. However treacherous, the drive is not without beauty. The towns in the vicinity of the bridge are known for the cultivation of exceptional ginger, mustard, sesame plants, cabbage, potato, wheat, and cauliflower, which are shipped to markets throughout the rest of the country. These fields provide great backgrounds for road selfies and are splendid subjects for professional and amateur photographers. Located nearly 5,000 feet (1,510 meters) above sea level along National Road 54, northwest by road from Loi-


B Sesame fields provide splendid subjects for photographers.

kaw, Pinlaung is part of the Pa’O Self-Administered Zone, which encompasses Hopong, Hsi Hseng, and Pinlaung townships in Shan State. It is one of the five self-administered zones established under the 2008 constitution, giving ethnic minorities more administrative control over matters such as developmental affairs, public health, water, and electricity. The township it lies in, also named Pinlaung, is home to 115,047 residents, according to the 2014 census. The scenic town boasts decidedly fertile soil and a favorable climate for an array of crops for local Shan and Pa’O farmers to cultivate. Traditionally, farmers in the town and surrounding areas mainly grew subsistence crops such as cheroot leaves, maize, and beans. Then, in the

1900s, poppy made its appearance as a major cash crop and farmers switched to tending this more lucrative flower. However, in recent years, approximately 30 townships in southern Shan State, including the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone, have voiced their desire to relinquish controversial poppy cultivation as a means to put food on the table in favor of other readily salable crops such as coffee and tea. Instead of fields of bright red poppy, now guests to the mountain town are greeted with the sweet scent of threefoot-high tea trees, an olfactory onslaught of ripe cabbage and cauliflower, as well as sprawling acres of potato, coffee, corn, and sesame fields.

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B The road to Kalaw is dotted with three-foot-high tea trees.

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t present, Pinlaung and its surroundings account for the largest area of tea cultivation in southern Shan State. This arable region produces the Assamica cultivar, or Assam tea, a large-leaf variety of tea plant originating in Assam, India. The tea is sold across central Myanmar but has yet to truly break into foreign markets. In Pinlaung, you can find it everywhere. Not only are the fields full of the fragrant trees, but every local shop, it seems, is brimming with these leaves, whether lining the shelves in pickled and dry form, or left out on tarp to dry in the cool mountain air.

Part of the charm of Pinlaung is that it is not frequented by tourists yet, though it is conveniently located between several tourist towns.

In the town proper, guests can visit the lakeside Mway Daw Pagoda near the north entrance, which is within walking distance from the city center. At the Nam Hoo Kyaung Tike Temple, limestone ridges covered in golden stupas jut up from the soil. Along the main road in the southern half of the town, guests can visit an authentic traditional craft market. Near this market is a rail line connecting Loikaw to Kalaw, two major tourist towns in the area. Most people visiting the town do not come to visit the town itself, but rather to trek the scenic outskirts. Loi Maung Taung Pagoda is perhaps the best-known area of interest. At the highest peak


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Wingabar Mountain and Yar Za Cave

in the region, also christened Loi Maung Taung, the pagoda lies about 20 minutes away from the town itself. From there, one can experience 360-degree views of breathtaking hillscapes. Lesser known, but perhaps even more awe-inspiring, is Wingabar Mountain. Located just 3.5 miles (5.7 kilometers) from Pinlaung, this craggy outcrop sits quite tucked away in the village of Taung Hti Bwar. Recently uncovered by a traveling religious pilgrim in 2007, the mountain soon became famous for its ancient stupas, jagged and dramatic structure, and fulllength cave, called Yar Za Cave or Hti Bwar Cave.

This cave takes part in a famous love triangle dating back to the 1070s in the Pagan Empire, rivaling the tales of Camelot, King Arthur, and Guinevere. General Kyansittha, son of King Anawrahta, fell in love with his future stepmother and queen, the Pegu Princess Manisanda Khin U, as he rode beside her curtained litter on the journey from Pegu to Pagan, delivering her to his father. She shared his feelings, and reports of their love fell on the warring king’s ears. Furious, Anawrahta ordered the death of his son and best general, throwing his spear toward him. Instead of killing him, the spear cut the ropes that bound Kyansittha, who was forced to

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leave his love behind and run for his life. Fleeing west, he made off with the spear of King Anawrahta, which was believed to possess supernatural powers. Locals say that he came upon the Yar Za Cave, hid there, and fell in love with a resident tea leaf harvester named Zin Zin Nge. Historic accounts report that he made a living tending horses and eventually made it to Kaungbyu, settled in, and got married to the niece of the sayadaw (abbot) of the local monastery, Thanbula. She would later become his chief queen consort, along with Manisanda, years later when he quelled the Pegu Rebellion and became king. Nowadays, tales of supernatural events and sightings surround Taung Hti Bwar. There are whispers that on Full Moon Day, those in surrounding villages can hear the sound of a powerful gong ringing around the mountain. Villagers have also reported sightings of three mystical ladies in green robes as well as three black dogs and three black cats stalking the mysterious locale. The pilgrim who initially rediscovered the mountain has since taken residence on the grounds below and acts as caretaker, having built up several modern structures and stupas near the mountain and cave entrance. This spot is suitable for those seeking a quiet and scenic spot for meditation and reciting prayers with rosary beads, called pati in Burmese.

Such legends and whispers of miracles, visions, and omens are entwined in the local culture. In fact, the story of the Pa’O begins with a fantastic tale. According to the Pa’O, their history begins long ago, when a female dragon fell in love with a shaman, known as a weizza, and bore him three eggs. From the first egg sprang the Karen people, the second gave birth to the Pa’O, and the third produced the ethnic Karenni and Kayan. So deeply do they honor this tradition, that the Pa’O people pay tribute to the story in the form of brightly-colored turbans on their crowns. To honor their mother dragon, the women style their turbans to resemble a dragon’s head. Similarly, the men give a nod to their weizza father by arranging the tail of their turbans to one side, as a weizza customarily wears his hat.

B HONORING THEIR DRAGON MOTHER To honor their mother dragon, Pa’O women style their turbans to resemble a dragon’s head. When once their clothing was as bright and colorful as their turbans, the majority of them now wear black or navy-colored outfits.


When once their clothing was as bright and colorful as their turbans, the majority of the Pa’O now wear black or navy-colored outfits. The change stems from a royal mandate made by King Anawrahta (the same king who ordered the death of General Kyansittha) when he captured King Manuha of the Thaton Kingdom, forcing him to be confined for life in the distant metropolis of Pagan and mandating that Manuha’s people, the Mon, wear clothes befitting their new status as slaves. The Pa’O, who were indigenous to the region, departed north yet continued the practice of wearing dark-colored garments. In modern times, most Pa’O women wear some sort of long blouse, straight-collared jacket, and a htamain (sarong). For the Pa’O and Shan who live there, Pinlaung is a paradise. Newly opened for foreigners, convenient, and safe to venture, it is also an ideal destination for tourists with the added bonus that the land remains pristine and the culture authentic.

In the town proper, guests can visit the lakeside Mway Daw Pagoda, Nam Hoo Kyaung Tike Temple, and an authentic traditional craft market. Near this market is a rail line connecting Loikaw to Kalaw, two major tourist towns in the area.

B Accommodation is available and quite reasonable, and delicious offerings of traditional Shan foods can be had at various open-air shops in town. The local Shan and Pa’O residents are open and generous, having learned how to live sideby-side in harmony while speaking separate languages and adhering to diverse traditions and cultures. Shan State is renowned for its beauty, and the beauty of Shan State begins in Pinlaung.

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ALL HAIL THE MIGHTY PEANUT Photographs by YE MYAT TUN

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P A COMMUNAL EVENT Women farmers are not a rare sight in Myanmar at all. In fact, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization found that women are responsible for half of the food grown in Asia.

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here is an old Burmese saying: “A thee ma, thayet; a thar ma, wet; a ywet ma, lahpet.” “Of all fruits, mango is best; of all meats, pork is best; of all leaves, the tea leaf is best.” Perhaps we should add one more to the old adage: of all nuts, peanut is best.

Myanmar is known as “The Rice Bowl of the World.” Rice is such an integral part of Myanmar economy and culture that the traditional greeting to a friend is “Htamin sar bi bi lar?” or “Have you eaten rice yet?” However, nipping at its heels in its ranking of economic importance is the lowly peanut, or groundnut. Highly praised for its versatility and high smoking point, this legume makes its way into the majority of Burmese dishes in some way or another, whether sprinkled in a savory salad, pounded into sweet mont (cake), pressed as an oil in the vast range of curries offered, deep-fried whole in fritters, added to sweet brittle, or simply boiled in brine. Even the leftover stalks after harvest can be used as cattle feed, with the bitter stalks aiding the digestive systems of cattle. Monsoon peanuts are grown during the six-month monsoon season and can be grown twice until the season ends in the fall. Harvesting continues well after the plants have shriveled up and dried, rooted into the ground.

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In Set Set Yo village, about an hour from Bagan, groups of women go out into the fields from morning to noon, uprooting the plants and exposing the peanuts hiding under the earth. Then, they load the plants on a large bullock cart and take them back to the village communal area behind the monastery. They sit together, watching the children of the village and pick through the pile. Sixty percent of the peanuts grown in Myanmar are used for oil production. Traditionally, the oil was extracted by pressing the peanuts on a hsi zone mill, which is shaped very much like a mortar and pestle. The pestle is attached to the yoke of an ox, which is required to walk monotonously beside a caretaker in circles for about two hours per batch. About 2.5 viss of the nuts are needed to make a viss of oil (one viss is 3.6 pounds), and the peanut meal left over is fed to livestock. Most of the oil nowadays is commercially pressed, though you can still find an oxen/hsi zone set up on the road to Bagan at Wine Toddy Palm Farm and other remote villages throughout the country. This village “ox-pressed” oil is akin to the cold-pressed olive oil of Italy and considered to be the highest quality available,

A young boy uses a cane to direct a bull on its twohour path around a hsi zone mill.

with genuine peanut oil retailing for 5,500 kyats a viss. In Myanmar, traditional curry dishes are quite literally drenched in this flavor-packed oil. The purpose is twofold: the excess oil floating at the top of a dish signifies wealth and keeps contamination at bay. A generous dose of oil in a dish is a signal of hospitality and affluence. Furthermore, the oily layer above the curry temporarily preserves the food by hindering bacteria and insects from getting into it. This allows busy housewives to cook dinner in the morning and let it rest on the dining table under a yin zagar, or fly cover, until evening. Quality peanut oil doesn’t come cheap in Myanmar, though. A 2015 report by the Myanmar Times stated that high demand from China had doubled the prices of peanut oil and only a third of peanuts produced were left for the domestic market. In addition to China’s near-market buyout, drought poses a serious risk to farmers in the dry zone of the country where peanuts are grown. Communities whose families have been farming for generations are now moving to the city to find work.


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More and more Burmese are venturing away from the traditional ingredient and opting for much cheaper blended oils as well as imports such as Malaysian and Indonesian palm oil and sunflower oil, which the government began importing in the 1990’s. According to a recent article by Frontier Myanmar, these imports now total about 800,000 tons a year. However, for most people here, peanut oil is the epitome of good taste. For traditional cooking, special events, and beloved company, peanut oil is king.

“A thee ma, thayet; a thar ma, wet; a ywet ma, lahpet... pe ma, mjei pe.”

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JARR LAN ISLAND HOME OF THE SALONE Story and Photographs by YE MYAT TUN Illustrated by BRITTNEY MITCHEM TUN

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PRIDE

Headed for a Digital Detox

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rriving at the Yangon International Airport in the wee hours of the morning, I plodded through the doors, checked in, and hit the top floor scouting for a coffee kiosk before my torturously early flight. Getting to sleep the night before was impossible. I had been up late rummaging through camera batteries and chargers; the adrenaline from my excitement spurring me on. In an hour, I’d depart from my daily grind— Yangon with its temples and tourists, resounding horn blasts, and intriguing smellscapes— to head for a digital detox.

A Salone fisherman dives into the sea with his spear. The villagers at Jarr Lan Island claim to be able to walk the sea floor for up to 30 minutes without assistance or equipment.

I was bound for the south of my homeland to the Myeik Islands, known by outsiders as the Mergui (pronounced Mer-gway) Archipelago. Located in the Tanintharyi Division, this collection of 804 islands in the Andaman Sea has become something like a second home to me. Encompassing an area of 2,237 square miles (3,600 square kilometers), the utopian cluster spreads 250 miles (400 kilometers) from north to south along the coast of Myanmar’s long southern prong.

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A Rose by Any Other Name Would Smell Just as Sweet Centuries ago, European merchant ships were well acquainted with the isles as they frequented the mainland port of Mergui. This bustling city was an important trading stop for travelers crossing the Malay Peninsula to reach Ayutthaya, the early capital of Siam (Thailand). Later, these islands became a far-off territory of the British Empire and were subsequently bequeathed austere westernized names such as Great Swinton, Lord Loughborough, and Hastings. When the

Unexplored and Unmapped After World War II and Burma’s independence, the islands were essentially off limits to foreigners and off the grid until 1997, when they were opened to foreign tourism following limited negotiations between Myanmar and dive operators from Phuket, Thailand. Even now, more than 20 years later, many of the islands remain unexplored and unmapped due to difficulty accessing them and the expense necessary to do so. Those fortuitous enough to have an opportunity to visit will find that a

J A QUIET COVE A small fishing village inhabited by some 300 Salone lies neslted in the northeastern bay of the island. As the settlement is only about twenty years old, infrastructure and communal leadership is still developing.

islands became part of independent Burma, nationalists renamed most of them with local names, the above being rechristened Kyun Pilar, Jarr Lan, and Za Det Nge Kyun, respectively.

great deal of the islands are entirely uninhabited. Due to the lack of tourism infrastructure, most adventurers opt to hop aboard a bareboat charter or guided sailboat. Some of the islands are small rocky granite or limestone capes jutting into the sea, completely unsuitable for landing. Others, however, are larger than Singapore— jungle-clad expanses with powdery white sandbars sprawling into the sea. In earlier trips when I landed on these soft beaches, my footprints were the first of the day or week.


J A DECADE OF PROGRESS

Sayardaw Kuthalazawti, the first monk to arrive at Jarr Lan, has spent the last ten years developing the island’s infrastructure and faith.

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Daw Khi, the village elder at Jarr Lan Island, is more than 100 years old.

Flora and Fauna One thing that always stands out on my excursions to these islands is the pulsating symphony of sound. The waves of perfectly clear, overly salty water crashing over the coral reefs mixed with the constant cacophony of birds and macaques in the rainforest canopy create quite a different kind of hullabaloo than the clamor of Yangon. Due to a ban on logging, these forests are chock-full of splendid stands of teak, mahogany, strangler figs, and other indigenous vegetation, some of them towering over 150 feet tall. Vul-

nerable mangrove swamps rise from the brackish water, lining the soupy green waterways of the islands. A complete list of flora and fauna on shore is yet to be determined; though in the 1930s, the forestry department of the British colonial government conducted a preliminary survey of the wildlife. Among the mammals listed were tigers, leopards, bears, rhinoceroses, wild boars, various deer, monkeys, and sea otters as well as elephants, which had been marooned after the collapse of the

We Salone are born, live, and die on our boats. The umbilical cords of our children plunge to the sea.


logging industry. Pythons dangle from the trees and other reptiles such as cobras, lizards, turtles, and crocodiles stalk the jungle floors.

Under the Sea The region’s years of isolation from modern influence has allowed for a great diversity in marine life. When diving expeditions were admitted to the islands in 1987, divers found one of the highest concentrations of sharks on earth. White-tip reef sharks,

grey nurse sharks, whale sharks, hammerheads, and bull sharks circle the warm waters in droves. Dolphins, manta rays, mobula rays, and fish are prolific in the coral reefs encompassing the islands. Endangered and quirky-looking dugongs linger near mangrove channels and shallow protected bays, where they graze seaweed beds. Misty curtains of dancing plankton illuminate the water as brilliantly-colored sea cucumbers cling to rock faces. As if the area couldn’t be more tantalizing to div-

ers, every spring, mobs of Sperm and Humpback whales grace the area.

Getting There: Kawthaung Following a two-hour flight, my plane touched down at the Kawthaung Airport. After passing through the small gateless terminal, past the staff shouting announcements to those in the waiting hall, and trying to avoid the stray dogs running around, I found my way to my driver and headed to the port. The busy fishing settlement,

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once called Victoria Point when the British ruled over then Burma, is the southernmost town in Myanmar. It’s also just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Thailand, so both Myanmar kyat and Thai baht are used here. I had stayed before at the brilliant Andaman Club Casino, but this time I waited at the port for a private boat to take me farther out to sea— past cliffside views, white sandy beaches, and forests of table corals— to Jarr Lan Island.

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Jarr Lan Dubbed Lord Loughborough by the British, Jarr Lan Island is one of the most renowned spots in the Myeik Archipelago. Rather hilly, its highest point is 1,350 feet (412 meters) above sea level. From north to

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south, it stretches 7 miles (11.4 kilometers) and is 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) from east to west. As one of the dozen or so permanently inhabited islands in the archipelago, it’s hog heaven for anyone with a hankering to turn their watches back a few hundred years and experience an unpretentious, gadget-free life. The captain and I set off for a two-hour ride from Kawthaung to the northeastern bay of the island, where a small fishing village is nestled inside a quiet cove. When we docked, the captain and I unloaded my gear and I ambled along the wooden jetty to my home for the next few days— a modest 14-room inn. Nearby came the chanting from dozens of children reciting lessons to their teacher, a male, in a tiny schoolhouse overlooking the cove.

The Salone My hosts for the week were Salone fishermen, whose families only recently inhabited the island. Called Moken or Sea Gypsies by the rest of the world, the Salone are a seafaring people who have inhabited the Mergui Archipelago for around 200 generations. The group I stayed with settled on Jarr Lan Island around 20 years ago due to attempts to assimilate them into the rest society by way of establishing permanent settlements. The islanders of Jarr Lan elected their first village head, U Law Kae, just 15 years ago, and have been constantly improving their side of the northeast bay. However, they retain their roots as seafarers. Most of the 70 houses on the island are built on stilts over the bay, allowing the


inhabitants to stay as connected as possible to the sea. The islanders have established a frequent stream of business in the past two decades. Every three days, a large fishing boat comes to collect the catches of the fishermen. However, fishing isn’t the only source of income at Jarr Lan. Each day, 10-15 fishing boats stop by the island to load up on ice for their catches. The residents also sell cane that grows deep in the island to mainland furniture makers. In the past, the Salone did not fish in the conventional sense. They lived off what they collected while beachcombing and dove for shellfish and sea cucumbers. On my first trip to Jarr Lan, my group and I met a fun-loving elder at the jetty. A huge chunk of his right arm had been blown to smithereens from an underwater mine, and he jovially recounted the tale. Later into our pier-

Salone families who have not yet settled on land live out their lives on floatillas of traditionally built bamboo boats (kabang) and use dugout canoes for foraging and exploring island waterways. When not in use, these canoes are towed in long chains behind the family kabang.

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side talk, he asked us if we were hungry. Before we arrived, he had dived into the deep, cerulean water below and came up sporting a massive lobster. He grilled it on a charcoal oven in front of us and served it to the group.

A Proud Past and Hopeful Future This elder’s stunt wasn’t out of the ordinary. Salone children often swim before they can walk. “We Salone are born, live, and die on our boats. The umbilical cords of our children plunge to the sea,” proclaims one oral account passed down over the generations. The Salone have deep-rooted beliefs of their origins and the origin of their islands, which they believe broke off from the mainland after a great flood. The day after I landed on Jarr Lan, I felt emboldened enough to try my hand at the seafaring life. I set sail

with a posse of men and boys to a pearl farm thirty minutes from the island. The gang demonstrated the acrobatics of diving into the water with a long spear and guided me through strange and wonderful beds of table coral sheltering brightly coloured fish. We made quite a splash: the fishermen in their natural glory donning just their longyis (sarongs) and strands of carved beads around their necks, me, a kind of outlandish aquanaut, with my underwater camera, toe-grip water shoes, full-face mask, and snorkel. The week saw me belly-full of lobster and oysters, sitting with the village head U Maung Zaw

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and his wife, Daw Win Lae Maw, who recounted their stories and provided insight to the current conditions of the village and Salone as a whole.

“There are only about 300 true Salones left here on the island,” U Maung Zaw, told me. “Our village elder is Daw Khi, and she’s more than 100 years old. Some of the residents are Christian, but most are Buddhist.” Ten years ago, the island’s first monk, Sayardaw Kuthalazawti, arrived. U Maung Zaw continued thoughtfully, “It was when he arrived that our village became more peaceful. He changed the people’s hearts and gave them a deeper meaning for their faith. Now, we have our own pagoda, dhamma hall, and even a large sitting Buddha.” The island is changing. The people are being pointed toward land as new buildings are constructed and electricity flows through each home. The Salone villagers who are inhabiting it seem quite content with the improvements to their lives, but also pine for the old ways, which are steadily blurring into the new.

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In the past, the Salone did not fish in the conventional sense. They lived off what they collected while beachcombing and dove for shellfish and sea cucumbers.

Where there is water, we Salone will prosper. Salone Proverb

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TAUNG KWE PAGODA Photographs by YE MYAT TUN

From the Sawbwa’s allowance, ten percent went to expenses of local administration as well as the upkeep of religious institutions and edifices such as the pagodas on Thiri Mingala Hill. Pictured on the following page is a jathei (hermit) standing in meditative thought at Taung Kwe Pagoda.

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o the south of Shan State and to the west of Thailand lies Myanmar’s smallest state, Kayah. Packed with rolling hills, frothing waterfalls, mysterious caves, and volcanic lakes, Kayah State also lays claim to Myanmar’s highest ethnic diversity. The Kayah, Kayan Lahwi, Bwe, Geko, Geba, Yantale, Lahta, Yinbaw, Karen, and Manumanaw have been residing alongside Bamar, Shan, Pa’O and Intha national races for ages. This range of ethnicities is quite impressive considering that the state is the least populated of any state or division in the country as of the 2014 census.


T In the Karen Hills area, north of Kayah and near the Shan border, rests the state’s tranquil capital city, Loikaw. This remote city is more than half a day’s drive from Yangon or Mandalay and about 75 miles (120 kilometers) south of Inle Lake. The name, derived from the Shan, denotes the dividing point between two mountains: Thiri Mingalar Taung and Shwe Taung (taung is the Burmese word for mountain). In the Shan language, loi means mountain and kaw means separate. Surrounded by stunning views of hilltop pagodas and mountain ranges, the city is a perfect base for trekking out into the neighboring countryside and exploring nearby villages. As the capital of Myanmar’s least-visited state, Loikaw and its surrounding areas see relatively few tourists, though there is plenty to enjoy. Belu Chaung (Ogre Stream), a tributary of the Thanlwin River, runs through the city from the west to the east. Just south of the river lie clusters of hilltop pagodas, the most prominent being Taung Kwe (Broken Mountain), which is nearly impossible to miss. In Kayah, as well as any other region in Myanmar, pagodas get the high ground. Although most of the ethnic minorities in the state converted to Christianity in the 19th century, the state is still nearly 50% Buddhist. Taung Kwe Pagoda, which towers above the city atop Thiri Mingala Hill, is Kayah State’s most iconic site and a major destination point for Buddhist pilgrims. Called Phaw Pye by the local Kayah, this 387-foot-high (118-meter) limestone outcrop houses nine different white and gold stupas on various levels of its jagged surface. The nine pagodas on each of the nine hillocks have their own unique history. In 1895 Loikaw, when the first pagoda (Shwe Yattaung) was built atop Thiri Mingala Hill, the local town chief was Myoza (Duke) Sao Lawi. At the time the second pagoda (Shwe Yin Aye) was built in 1913, it was under the rule of the newly ap-


pointed Sawbwa (Saopha in Shan) Hkun Li who enjoyed the title of “Lord of the Heavens” or “Sky Prince,” which his father, Sao Lawi, had earned before his death in 1907. The Sawbwa’s palace in Loikaw, Thiri Mingalarpon Kyaung, had only just been built the year before. It was during Sawbwa Hkun Li’s reign that the Kyauk Thamban (1914), Aung Taw Mu (1929), and Sutaungpyi (1929) Pagodas were constructed atop Thiri Mingala Hill. Upon Sawbwa Hkun Li’s death in 1930, the Sky Prince left behind six wives and seven children. One of the three contending sons in line for the throne, the ten-year-old Sao Lawi II (the son of Hkun Li’s fifth wife, Sao Nang Htay), was finally chosen. Three years later, the Pyi Lone Chan Thar Pagoda and Lower Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda were built, the former being the largest Pagoda on the site today, measuring 36 feet high and 27 feet in diameter. A year later, the Upper Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda was added to the group. During this time, the young Sao Lawi II was continuing his studies at the Shan Chiefs’ School. His half-brother Sao Wunna, who later became the Head of State for Kayah State, was acting as the real power in the region. In 1950, the final pagoda, Shwe Pyi Aye was built. Burma had gained independence two years prior, and the grown Sao Lawi II was now the Sawbwa of Kantarawadi. In nine years, he would relinquish his powers to the Shan government, though he would live out his life in his palace in Loikaw until his death in 1987. The stupas from the time of the Sky Kings still stand, as does the palace of Sao Lawi II, which was converted to a monastery after his children donated it to a local Buddhist organization. Providing a view of the region’s intricate history, culture, and architecture, these places of worship offer viewers contemporary scenes of Loikaw and Kayah’s bygone days. It has been prophesied that the nine pagodas will one day be unified into one glorious pagoda for the purpose of spreading the Buddhist faith and ensuring its preservation.

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Sawbwa Sao Lawi, the ruler of Kantarawadi, is standing in the middle of the back row at the Delhi Durbar in 1903. Originally a Myoza, he was appointed the title Sawbwa by the British governmnet on January 1, 1903.


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TRADITION

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ODE TO THANAKHA SHWE PYI NANN THANAKHA MUSEUM Photographs by YE MYAT TUN Illustrated by BRITTNEY MITCHEM TUN

The thanakha tree can be found in natural forests, but modern farmers cultivate it on plantations. Shwe Pyi Nann, the leading manufacturer and exporter of traditional cosmetic thanakha, owns 127 acres of thanakha plantations.


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ly, the rounded fruits of the tree are thought to fight small pox and reduce high fevers.

Completed in 2009, the world’s first and only thanakha museum, the Thanakha Museum Complex in Nyaung-U, offers a bijou exhibition devoted to the wealth of uses of the thanakha tree (Limonia acidissima and Murraya).

On top of its medical and aesthetic purposes, the wood also provides a wonderful medium for sculptors. Prayer beads, traditional combs, paddles, walking sticks, and elegant sculptures are readily crafted from the lightly colored wood; some of which are viewable in the museum’s display room. However, securing a specimen large enough for a carving takes time. The trunk of a thanakha tree takes 10 years to reach a diameter of 2 inches, with quality thanakha bark coming from large, mature trees no less than 35 years old.

Unique to the Burmese people, thanakha has been applied as a cosmetic product for 2,400 years, dating back from the Pyu Period. Though its story begins as a cosmetic, every single part of the thanakha plant has found some purpose in Burmese traditional medicine. At the Thanakha Museum Complex, an exhaustive list of these applications is on display.

T The rough bark, most notable for the milky-yellow paste it produces, offers a cooling effect as well as protection from the sun when applied to the skin. Aside from its cosmetic benefits as an anti-fungal ointment and toner, the paste of the bark also functions as a pain-reliever. Women in Myanmar use it to ease menstrual cramping and some apply it to their temples in order to alleviate headaches. The roots have been harvested to improve digestive and cardiac issues as well as ward off gout. Treatments for epilepsy, leprosy, malaria, and ulcers are produced from poultices of green thanakha leaves. Final-

Such grand specimens grace the exterior of the Thanakha Museum Complex; the oldest tree near the entrance is approximately 100 years old. Once inside, guests receive an education on the agricultural aspects of thanakha. An interactive map depicts the four regions in Myanmar suitable for growing thanakha wood: Sagaing Division, Magway Division, Mandalay Division, and Shan State. Samples of various types of regional soils suitable and unsuitable for growing thanakha trees are set out and accessible to guests willing to get their hands dirty. The most prominent display in the museum, most suitably, is the plethora of various kinds of thanakha wood, including exceedingly rare specimens.


In addition to providing information on the how’s and why’s of thanakha production, the museum also offers exquisite paraphernalia surrounding the history and uses of thanakha. Period paintings portray the royal history of the tree. An array of beautifully-carved kyauk pyins, or grinding stones, from different periods are also on display. To complete the experience, guests are invited to make their own pastes of creamy thanakha wood and gussy up with them. Bagan, known for its temples, has a mass of hidden gems, this museum being one. Free to the public, it is a great way to escape the hot sun and enjoy a bit of interactive culture.

T Thanakha may be applied from head to toe using a thin paste, which is created by sprinkling a greater percentage of water to the ground bark. A creamier paste consisting of less water is applied to the face in attractive designs, which are limited only to the wearer’s imagination.

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Period paintings portray the royal history of the tree. An array of beautifully-carved kyauk pyins, or grinding stones, from different periods are also on display.

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Number One Thanakha Brand in Myanmar

www.shwepyinann.com


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