Myanmar, a country comprised with eight nationalities, is blessed with resources and different cultural heritages. As a name called Union of Myanmar, eight main nationalities share the country with each ones having their own culture and customs. From the warm and generous people, you will see heart-warming traditions and costume of different nationalities is one of them.
Names of nationalities are addressed according to alphabetical order and they are Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Bamar, Mon, Rakhine and Shan.
Kachin people who mostly live in upper Myanmar wear very colorful costumes. As different tribes such as Kachin, Lisu, zaiwa live proudly and peacefully in upper Myanmar, their costumes are slightly different from each other and there are mroe than ten forms of costumes according to sub-ethnics of it. Anyway, they are now commonly called Kachin. The significant wear of Kachin nationality is with adornment of silver circles and jingles. Those attached to the black blouse goes to lady’s wear. And those dangling of silver circles are decorated on a bag worn by men. Men wear a turban of white or colored thin cloth around their head. Besides carrying beautifully decorated sword make Kachin Nationality unique. Swords are different according to occasions. A set of cream colored- shirt and loose pants make them look simple and cool. Ladies costume looks a bit heavy, yet they are expensive. Ladies wear red-checked cloth around the lower body with a red-colored pair of leggings under. Both attires are complete with a headdress of white or colored thin cloth around on man’s head and a headdress of red can-shaped on woman’s head. As far as I am concerned, Kachin people are such ethnic minority and value their ethnic dress. Since Kachin people weave those special clothing by themselves in traditional ways, they are unique compared to other nationalities. Jakhoke, a loom named in Kachin language, is as famous as an impressive weaving loom. Since they weave their traditional dress with creativity and unique style, it makes them obvious of all. Kachin-designed longyis are famous in lower Myanmar. Almost every lady likes to wear it. Perhaps the cold weather in upper Myanmar has its influences on their customary and attire. So Kachin attire appeared in this heavy and unique way to protect the weather.
Kayah Nationality which stands second in Burmese alphabetical order has the least population in Myanmar. More than a dozen ethic groups of Kayah exist in eastern Myanmar. Subgroups of Kayah costumes also slightly differ from each other. The red short clock just above the waist worn by ladies makes Kayah different and significant from other races. They wear red sleeveless blouse under the cloak, matching with the red long skirt. A shawl is tied around their waists to bring out attractive designs. Men wear white headdress and white shirt together with black trousers. Same as Kachin, silver swords are worn over shoulders on special occasions.
The traditional costume of Kayin looks light and cool since their outfits are loose. It shows their activeness and cheerfulness. Although several different subgroups of Kayin wear a bit different from each group, they wear tunics generally. Tunics come in different colors according to their ethnic groups. The obvious costume is loose tunic which is worn by both genders. Only the patterns and colors are different. Common colors are red, white and black whereas common patterns are vertical stripes on tunic and two or more horizontal stripes on ladies longyis(long clothing for lower body). Sometimes ladies wear only tunic which is long enough to cover the calf. Men wear white long-sleeved-shirt under the sleeveless tunic. Men tie a long shawl over their foreheads and have it knotted on right side while ladies wear a headband of matching colored fabric. In fact, they usually wear like Bamar people, except in special occasions. After 20th century, men wear trousers instead of longyi. The kayin bag is famous and unique with fluffy cottoned-strings. The outfit of Kayin traditional costume looks almost the simplest fashion but very comfortable and lovely to wear it.
One of the ethnic groups of Myanmar, Chin, mostly lives in the western part of Myanmar with the population of 1%. There are also many subgroups in Chin. Hidden behind Chin cold mountains, they look peaceful and simple. Facial tattoos are unique cultures of one of the Chin subgroups. They also have different costumes in different designs. The general wear of ladies is long sleeved-blouse which is buttoned along the center line in front of upper body. For the lower body, they wear longyi in horizontal striped-designs. Men wear white long sleeved-shirt without collar for upper body. They wear trousers or longyi for lower body. Colors come in red and black usually. While ladies wear traditionally weaved a shawl over shoulders, mean wear a turban on head. Just with an effort to add the beauty, ladies wear traditional designs of bracelets and necklaces. Chin shawls and blankets make the trademarks of Chin nationality and they are famous around the country. Their costumes of blankets and shawls make sense in case of severe coldness of Chin mountainous regions.
Bamar or Burmese, the main and most-populated ethnic group is prominent and dominant in Myanmar. Two thirds of population in Myanmar is Bamar people who stand tall without any subgroup. Traditional costumes look very calm and graceful. Men wear white long-sleeved-shirt without collar and jackets of different colors for tops and longyi for lower body. For formal occasions, the men of Myanmar of any nationality wear a turban. Bamar men wear white ready-made round turban with flapping triangle-shaped cloth on head on special occasions like wedding and grand ceremonies. As it’s true all over the world, the women have a wider choice of fashion. Ladies wears can be fit blouses with button-up either in the center or on the side. Although formal and traditional top must be in long sleeve and not long beyond the waist, ladies wears today are beautifully designed in modern ways and slightly different from real traditional costumes. But they look still traditional and beautiful. Plus ladies wear a shawl over shoulders to make a perfect traditional costume. It makes ladies look more graceful and respectful to others who attend special ceremonies. Both genders wear big loops of fabric called longyi (longyi for ladies is also called hta-main) for lower body. They fold those loops tightly around waist to wear them securely since no hooks or strings are used to tie. Men and women tie in different ways. Once you are sure you won’t fall off, it’s really comfortable and you will enjoy the fabric. Bamar people usually wear cotton clothes since it’s cool and suitable for hot weather.
Bamar, Mon and Rakhine people’ wears are basically similar and close. Mon people who mostly live in lower Myanmar are the one of the earliest people to reside in South East Asia. Their traditional costume is simple but special. Men wear white long sleeved shirt without color and white jacket over the shirt. Both genders wear red checked longyis. Ladies wear long-sleeved white blouses which button-up in the centre. Men wear same turban as Bamar on special occasion and ladies wear a red shawl across the chest crossing the left shoulder. Mon ladies tie hair in a knot on top of heads. Wearing white long pearl necklace make Mon ladies different from other nationalities. Mon people are religious and ancient somehow.
Rakhine people live along the coastal region of Myanmar. Rakhine men wear exactly the same as Bamar men. They also wear ready-made turbans on heads. Ladies wear mostly the same as Bamar ladies too, but blouses are a bit longer and their longyis are woven consisting of horizontal stripes. A shawl is wrapped across the chest passing over the left shoulder as Mon ladies. They tangled hair in different designs. Rakhine and Bamar usually wear yellow colored blouses and longyis as prosperous colors. But they don’t count in color for special occasions, it can be in any color as long as it keeps the traditional designs.
The last, but not the least, is about Shan nationality. Shan people are sweet and cool. There are more than seven subgroups of Shan nationality. Costumes are different but just a little. Shan men usually dress in shirts and traditional khaki jackets. As usual, men wear a headdress. Their baggy trousers are unique and famous. They are light, comfortable and cool made of cotton. Shan women wear longyis and long sleeved blouses which button-up on the side. Ladies headdress are different according to subgroups. Ladies of main Shan nationality wear ready-made turbans which has two knots on each side of head just above the ears. Ladies turbans look really lovely and make Shan ladies charming. As a full set of costumes, men hold a sword or a Shan bag. You should not miss to buy Shan bag when you visit Shan state. Although Shan bag is traditional wear, it looks modern and people love to wear it. Shan ladies blouses and beautifully designed longyis are even popular and worn by almost all Bamar ladies nowadays.
As meeting local people opens the door to their traditions, make sure you try on those costumes as you visit Myanmar. You will experience different feelings as you wear them.