With neighboring countries such as China, Laos, and Thailand, one could assume that Myanmar would fall subject to a myriad of influences, not to mention its 124-year colonization under British powers. But Myanmar had managed to absorb these influences and integrate them into its own culture, turning them into unique cultural products. And what better way to keep a piece of this enriched culture but to avail of yourself a keepsake. Here is a list of five souvenirs that you might want to get your hands on from Myanmar:
1. Yoke Thay Marionettes – Prior to British colonization, the eighteenth century saw the popularity of Marionette performances called the “Yoke Thay”.
Hand-painted and carved, these dancing marionettes usually stand at 22-27 inches tall. They are made of Burmese Teak, a wood that is water resistant and durable. They are created in full detail, taking into account all facets of human anatomy.
Yoke Thay shows were said to have been given greater regard compared to live theater. History has it that the kings of old did not favor actual human dancers leading the performers to use marionettes instead for entertainment.
Based from the sacred literature “Jakata”, the Marionette plays narrate the various lives Siddhartha Gautama had assumed before he had become Buddha.
2. The Longyi – The Longyi is thought to be the most comfortable piece of clothing worn by both Burmese men and women. Traditionally, the cloth extends to 2m long and 80cm wide. Longyis are wrapped around the waist and can be worn down to the feet or folded right up the knee.
The cloth is usually printed or produced with embroidery. Men’s Longyi is called “paso” which is folded on each side in front and tucked by the waist, positioned underneath the navel. The women’s is called the “htamein”. These are tied up in a knot at one side and tucked into what is called a “htet sint”, a black waistband sewn to the top of the cloth.
3. Myanmar tapestry – These tapestries show Myanmar artistry in embroidery. Each creation is an impressive picture illustrated through patterns of colored threads, applique woven with gilded materials and other semi-precious stones. The eighteenth century had seen the beginnings of the production of such tapestries.
Myanmar tapestries are usually used to design walls, also variably used as dance costumes and clothing for royalty for special occasions. Modern-day Myanmar weavers have integrated these tapestries to bag designs, making this traditional piece into a viable souvenir.
4. Myanmar Traditional Lacquerware – Wooden and made by hand, Myanmar lacquerware are objects decorated, whether be it carved or inlaid, with lacquer.
This tradition traces its history from two alternating narratives. The first account tells of Myanmar’s early interactions with China that had resulted into the bringing of the first lacquer products to the country. The second relates that the tradition had started in Upper Myanmar during Anawrahta’s rule. He acquired not only Buddhist relics and literature upon his conquest of Thaton, the capital of Lower Myanmar’s Mon Kingdom, but also lacquers craftsmen. These he had brought to Bagan. However, this tradition is not entirely native to Thaton, but was brought through trade with the Kingdom of Chaingmai of Northern Thailand.
5. Bronze Images – Bronze casting in Myanmar is said to be a reflection of spiritual practices of old. Items that are usually produced are religious images, the most common being images of Buddha, and musical instruments. The practice has been around for centuries, nowadays, small versions of religious images are produced to be sold for travellers as souvenirs.
These are only a few of the things that are worth your buck when travelling to Myanmar. They are worthy keepsakes not only because of their artistic value but because of the culture and history engrained within them.