musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Thanaka Party!

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It was one of those unplanned moments that turned out to be a highlight of my trip to Myanmar. I was walking down the hill from the monastery at Tat Ein village, a group of novice monks in my wake, ready to say my goodbyes to everyone. At the bottom of the hill, however, there was a party of sorts going on; a group of village girls enthusiastically dabbing one another with thanaka paste.

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If you haven’t heard of thanaka before, you have most likely seen it, especially if you’ve been to Myanmar or seen photos of the people who live in the country. Thanaka is everywhere! Thanaka is a pale yellow paste, or powder, that’s made from the ground bark of a locally-grown tree. The paste is dabbed on the skin — usually the face — of the person, and sometimes in very creative patterns. You will see it on children of all ages, and women of almost any age. Thanaka serves as both a sunscreen and a cosmetic. Many women value thanaka for its skin healing properties, plus many local men think that not only does thanaka look attractive on a lady, but it smells great too! Thanaka as an aphrodisiac? Why not!

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At Tat Ein, the girls were obviously having a great time going wild with the thanaka. Wanting to join the festivities, I suggested that they apply some to my face too, an idea that they eagerly accepted! Within minutes I had thanaka smeared all over my face. But I wasn’t the only one: a couple of the monks in my contingent got caught in the crossfire and had thanaka smeared on their faces too. But you know what? Judging by their delighted reaction, I don’t think they minded one bit at all!

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Another magical day in Myanmar … all thanks to a bit of thanaka!

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