Htamane: Are you sprinkling sesame seeds?

“Sprinkling sesame seeds” (ႏွမ္းျဖဴးျခင္း) is a Burmese idiom used to describe some fine works, but to belittle something done by someone, only after other people have already done all the essential part of the work.

This well-known idiom originally comes from the famous activity of a Burmese tradition, making Htamane (ထမနဲထိုး ပဲြ). Htamane (ထမနဲထိုး ပဲြ) is made of sticky rice combined with coconut slices, sesame seeds, peanut and a suitable amount of cooking oil. This is a famous traditional activity of Tabodwe (တပို႔တြဲ), the eleventh month of Myanmar calendar (around February). And this needs teamwork!!

To understand the idiom, you need to know the process of making Htamane, which has many steps. The first step begins with winnowing the sesame seeds and rice grains. Usually it is girls who do this job and my female friends often say that it’s a simple and easy process. I find it opposite since for me it does requires skills and art which I don’t have. To winnow, the person needs to hold the tray of grains with both hands then skillfully tosses all the grains up into the air. The grains fall right back into the tray while most of the dust and trashes are blown away. The next step is to ‘roll’ the grains by moving the tray in a circular motion in order to separate the good grains from all the impurities with different density. Again, this needs practices and skills. While girls are winnowing, boys and men tear away coconut fibers till its shell becomes visible. This job needs strength and experience, and of course as a young and strong man, I can do it easily.

At the same time, a huge concave iron or steel pot is put over the fireplace, usually a pit dug for the purpose. Ginger and cooking oil are the first to be added in the pot followed by pure sticky rice that has been soaked into water. When the rice is soft enough, the pot is removed from the fire and two strong men with a huge wooden ladle begin to stir the rice and crush it. They keep stirring and crushing it till it becomes stickier and coagulates.

After that, girls add coconut slices and peanut to make it a perfect mixture. The final step is to sprinkle the sesame seeds which requires the least strength and skills. The job is too easy for anyone to break a sweat, and there are always some people who will just come and help sprinkle the sesame seeds in this simplest step. Yet, they are proud of themselves as being a part of the finished job as a whole. So, the use of idiom “Sprinkle sesame seeds” usually refers to people who only participate in a last-minute job with a very little effort.

In my opinion, it is not that bad as it sounds for someone who sprinkles the seeds in the making of Htamane, because at least he takes part in the job. Nowadays, there is a type of person who doesn’t even sprinkle anything, still they proudly claim, ‘this is our work’.

My suggestion is that if you ever have a chance to take part in the ‘Making of Htamane’, don’t hesitate to help sprinkle sesame seeds. Even if it is a small step of the work, at least you contribute, and only a thoughtful contribution that counts, be it big or small.