A few stories from "Myanmar - An Obsession" a book project by Albert Normandin
M7 - November 2, 2010
From Yangon, I fly to the port city of Sittwe and take a six-hour boat ride up the Kaladan River. In the foothills of the Chin Mountains lies the quiet little town of Mrauk U. Full of ancient temples and history that few tourists visit. It is not an easy trip and offers little by way of conveniences or facilities to enjoy.
My adventure continues from here, three more hours up the Lemro River, to a series of small villages hidden in the Chin Mountains. These are the Pan Pon, Cho Min and Khint Chaung villages.
The boat ride takes me back a thousand years. Floating along the river as big old sailboats pass, like Viking ships exploring the next place to conquer.
Crawling up the banks of the river to the villages, I find the Tattoo ladies. They are all older woman now and a few have died since my last trip. Surviving on what they grow and produce themselves, with no medicine or supplies, and they are aging rapidly.
Legend has it that Kings and Princes came to take the beautiful women away to be their personal slaves. As a deterrent, the villages’ young maidens covered their faces with tattoos to make themselves less attractive. This seems more like a myth to add mystery to the adventure.
The more believable story comes from the women themselves. The tattoos were done to enhance their beauty and make themselves more attractive to the men in their tribe. Similar to the motivations of the Long Neck Ring ladies in other regions of Myanmar.
I am told by the ladies that the tattoos were a very painful process. Done with crude handmade instruments, this practice is no longer performed. It is truly a dying tradition.
The Grandmothers of this era seem to be joyful old women, but they just may be laughing at me.
M4 - January 20, 2008
Generally, I don’t believe photographs should be described. Perhaps not even given a title. But this image, as straightforward as it appears, is in need of a title. “Manpower.”
Most people would not realize that this Ferris wheel is completely man-powered. No mechanical or electrical motors are used to operate it.
When the seats are filled, and it’s time to give everyone their ride, several young men climb up the middle of the wheel to the top. They swing their collective body weight to get this massive, rickety old wheel going.
This small crew of young muscular men travel from festival to festival, assemble the wheel, operate it, tear it down, and do it all over again at the next town.
At the latest festival, I noticed they have managed to scramble up some lights. They’ve connected the wires to a power source of sorts, to light up the night with their archaic spinning wheel. For the locals, it adds a bit of romance to the biggest fair of the year.
M8 - December 26, 2011
Burmese boys, as young as 5 or 6 years old, are expected to enter into the Buddha’s order to become novice monks. It is an important honour for the family and a right of passage for the boy, like a coming of age. Some boys may only be monks for a few weeks at this early stage in their lives.
Colourful makeup is applied to the boy’s faces and they are dressed in extravagant costumes of gold and silk. Just as a Royal Prince or King would be for display.
Celebrations begin with the traditional parading of the boys around the village. They can be transported on horseback, ox cart, or on the shoulders of men and even by boat. The modern day, big city version often uses a convoy of pickup trucks for the parade.
The procession ends with ceremonies for the future monks and their families. A grand feast is served to everyone, while traditional music blares on.
After the festivities, the extravagant costumes are removed and the elder monks give the boys their first head shaving.
The senior monk does the formal induction with prayers and blessings. The boys will then wrap their red robes for the first time. Now they are officially monks.
I have witnessed many versions of this ceremony. From celebrations for a lone boy in a remote floating village to a large gathering of 118 soon-to-be monks in Mandalay. Each one of these events is a very beautiful and different kind of spectacle.
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