A look into the Myanmar Culture

This photo essay was submitted by photographer Gail Shore, who explores locations where native cultures and environments are in jeopardy. She believes that the more we know about each other, the better we are able to shape our world. Shore founded Cultural Jambalaya, a nonprofit that aims to celebrate cultures through international photography.

I visited Myanmar / Burma in December 2009. The country is rich in ethnic groups, languages and traditions that date back centuries.

In spite of a ruthless ruling junta that commands absolute power, the people throughout this fiercely religious Buddhist country exercise profound kindness, compassion and respect for elders, community and family. They maintain an exceptional mental discipline, and as a result, their disposition is persistently positive and their friendliness is organic. With seemingly little hope for a better life, I got a glimpse of what the human spirit is capable of accomplishing.

In an attempt to characterize the remarkable spirit of Myanmar’s people, pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi says, "It’s part of the unceasing human endeavor to prove that the spirit of man can transcend the flaws of his nature."

“Novice Monks”
These novice monks are from the ethnically diverse area of Kengtung, located in Shan State on Myanmar’s eastern border where Laos, China and Thailand come together. Because of the geographic relationship, this remote region is of strategic importance to the Myanmar government.

“Mun Chin Women”
The Mun Chin, Tibeto-Burmese people dating back to 500 BCE, live in western Myanmar in the mountains that border Bangladesh. I was told that only a handful of foreigners have ever been to this isolated village, and that I’m likely to be the only American to visit this tribe since the missionaries before WWII.

Many women, children and some men paint their faces with a paste called thanakha, a moisturizer and sunscreen worn as a decorative makeup.

“Myanmar Nuns”
Nuns shave their heads, wear pink robes and take vows like monks. The nuns do not share the same prestigious status as monks in Burmese society but because of their exceptionally high standard of religious learning, there are more Theravada Buddhist nuns in Myanmar than anywhere in the world.

“One-legged Fisherman”
The hard-working Intha people of the Inle Lake region in central Myanmar are known for their unusual one-legged fishing technique. Fisherman row with one leg so they can stand up and spot fish in the shallow lake, while leaving their hands free to drop their cone basket nets over the fish.

Bagan is the heart of Myanmar’s Buddhism. Thousands of temples, pagodas and shrines cover the landscape. In the eleventh century, the king began a building program that Marco Polo said was one of the greatest sights in the world.

“Tattooed Woman”
In Mindat in western Myanmar, there are several different tribal groups that are famous for their facial tattoos. This extraordinary custom began in the eleventh century when some young maiden girls tattooed, disfiguring their faces to protect them from slavery or capture by the ruling princes.

“Lunchtime at the Monastery”
For centuries, the monastic education tradition has been an integral part of Myanmar culture, where Buddhist monks hold the highest moral authority.

Cultural Jambalaya

1 comment:

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