Vol. 2


April - June 2003

Home | Contents | Message of Felicitation from H.E Brig.Gen.Thein Zaw,Minister for Hotels & Tourism
Happy New Year to Our Readers | Pinya | Braving The Rapids | Is it a Hinmyo ? | Kayin Clothing
Bogyoke Market - Yangon's Oriental Bazaar | A Wonder World: Monywa Thanboddhay
Bringing In The New Year | Tender is the Night| Events Calendar


Kayin Clothing

By Ma Thanegi
Photos: Sonny Nyein

A couple who lives in Hpado Village, Taikkyi Township. The costume she wears was onced worn only by ladies who own many elephants. He holds a buffalo horn musical instrument.

'Thin-daing' is the Myanmar word for the straight-cut loose tunic worn by the Kayin Nationalities. It is made from two long, narrow strips of woven cloth sewn together with openings for neck and arms.

The split of the neck opening turns into a V shape when the Thin-daing is worn, and the length can reach to the waist, the hips or the knees, and for children, to the ankles. Sleeves are not attached to this tunic but as it is loose and big, the shoulders slope over to cover the top part of the arms.

Described thus, the outfit of a Kayin man or woman seemed almost the simplest fashion of all times. However, the ingenuity of the traditional weavers turns the Thin-daing into clothes of intricate weaving and embroidery.

The Thin-daing is worn over a waist garment called longyi, a nearly two-meter piece of cloth sewn into a tube and tied at the waist. As with other nationalities of Myanmar, the men wear their longyi knotted in front, while the women fold it into a flap to cover the front, either from left to right or right to left, and keep it in place just by tucking one small corner in the waist. The womenís longyi has an additional strip of black cotton sewn along the top for better securing. Waist garments woven on the traditional back-strap looms require two narrow pieces to be first sewn horizontally.

Kayin girls weaving and spinning

The designs and the colours are not for mere decoration, however; sometimes there are certain colours that are specific to the wearer. For example, one design is meant to be worn only by a person who posses a big herd of elephants. As their region has many thick jungles, elephants are necessary possessions and a manís wealth is counted by how many of these docile giants he owns. They are hired out for use in logging or transportation, together with their own handlers.

Loom set in a small wooden frame

The Kayin nationalities, although their sub-races can number nearly thirty, can be roughly divided into S'gaw and Pwo races, or, those who live on the mountains and those who live on the plains. The long and narrow Kayin State is tucked between the Bago Division and Mon State on the West and Thailand on the East. However, a great many Kayin people live in the rich and fertile Ayeyarwaddy Delta. Those who live on the plains grow rice, while those on the mountains are hunters or own small farms, where they sometimes grow cotton. The looms on the plains are similar to the fixed-frame looms of central Myanmar while in the mountains the Jut-khote (Backstrap) looms are more often used. Backstrap weaving is when the warp is tied to the weaverís waist as she sits on the ground with her legs stretched out and soles of her feet set firmly against a wall or barrier. The cloth produced this way is only about 18 inches wide, or sometimes even half of that. Many other mountain races use this easy-to-transport loom as well. The plains Kayin nationalities more often than not use Backstrap looms which are set within a small wooden frame so that it is more stable and the weaver can sit in relative comfort. The daughter of the household is expected to know how to weave and to supply the clothing for her family, apart from going to school and helping her mother around the house. In most tribes, however, the tradition for a girl about to marry is for her to weave her own wedding costume, and one for her groom.

Intricately hand-woven shifts

In some tribes only unmarried girls wear the colour white. The tunics are usually black, and the bottom decorated with colourful parallel lines. The lines can be so few as to just edge the bottom or be so wide that they reach to the armholes.

Newer fashions mean that the tunics are sewn from cloths of any colour of choice.

Sometimes intricate embroidered flowers or traditional designs fill in the gaps between the rows. White, oval seeds known as Jobís Tears are treasured decorations, to be sewn on like rows of pearls. The seams, neckline and the armholes are also bordered with embroidery. Tassels of yarn are sometimes left uncut after the weaving so that they contribute to the design as well. A few pom-poms made of colourful wool are also pretty touches.

The longyi are woven with horizontal stripes, not the wavy lines popular with the Bama race, but in straight lines which vary from narrow to broad. However, they may use the zigzag pattern in a line or two to create a prettier pattern.

Young couple in contemporary-style costume.

As there are many sub-races of the Kayin, some tribes have more ornate headdresses or a different style of Thin-daings, or pattern of longyi. Most commonly the menís longyi is red or green in colour, with fine horizontal lines in black or white. The womenís longyi has the broader lines in the middle or all over the cloth, and both the background and the stripes can be of any colour. As is true all over the world, the women have a wider choice of fashion. Even then, the menís unadorned tunics and longyi give a look of simple dignity and elegance to the wearer.

For formal occasions, the men of Myanmar of any nationality like to wear a turban. The Kayin men wear a long strip of cloth tied around their foreheads knotted on the right side of the head, and with the two ends hanging free. The women wear theirs like a headband, tied at the nape and the two ends allowed to fall to the front over their shoulders. With a woven shoulder bag in matching colours, the costume of the Kayin couple is complete.

Acknowledgement: The Editorial Board of Enchanting Myanmar magazine extends their sincere gratitude to the Kayin Literature and Culture Committee,Yangon, for their wholehearted support, for making this article possible.

Man's tunic, Say P'lo in Kayin language, Lai Kai Kayin, Hpa-an region. 46" x 30". Woman's blouse, Sai Saki, Pwo Kayin, Ayeyarwaddy Delta. 31" x 18". Woman's blouse, Say Akay, S'gaw Kayin, Shwekyin Kyaukkyi region.. 40" x 9" each side. Unmarried girl's blouse, Say Moe Wah, S'gaw Kayin, Bago Ranges. 48" x 25". Woman's longyi, Ni Thair Taw, three horizontal strips S'gaw Kayin, Toungu. 34" x 52".

Woman's blouse, Say Bai, with seed decoration,S'gaw Kayin, Shwegyin Kyaukkyi region. 30" x 26" Woman's blouse, Say Bu, S'gaw Kayin, Bago Ranges. 23" x 23". Men's tunic, Say P'lo, S'gaw Kayin, Shwegyin Kyaukkyi region. 39" x 28". Woman's blouse, Say P'lo, S'gaw Kayin, Bago
Ranges. 30" x 26".
Woman's blouse, Say Bu, S'gaw Kayin, Shwegyin Kyaukkyi region,. 25" x 23 ".
Woman's blouse, Say Bai, decorated with seeds, S'gaw Kayin, Shwegyin Kyaukkyi region. 30" x 25". Man's tunic, Say P'lo, S'gaw Kayin, Bago Ranges and Thandaung region. 39" x 29". One strip of a three-strip woman's longyi, Ni Thair Taw, S'gaw Kayin, Hpa-an. 14" x 57". Woman's longyi, Ni Khee Taw, two horizontal strips, S'gaw Kayin, Shwegyin Kyaukkyi region. 30" x 32" Man's formal-wear longyi, Sharn, Pwo Kayin, Ayeyarwaddy Delta. 33" x 88".
Woman's longyi, Ni, two horizontal strips sewn together, Pwo Kayin, Thandaung region. 35" x 56". Woman's longyi, Ni Khee Taw, two horizontal strips, S'gaw Kayin, Shwegyin Kyaukkyi region. 36 " x 52". Woman's embroidered blouse, Sai Saki, Pwo Kayin, Ayeyarwaddy Delta. 32" x 22". Woman's longyi, Ni Khee Taw, two horizontal strips, S'gaw Kayin, Shwegyin Kyaukkyi region, 39" x 68". Bags for carrying small boxes of betel-nut chips, Tha Blue Hte, S'gaw Kayin, Shwekyin Kyaukkyi region. 7" x 28" each side.
  Detail of scarf, woven in pattern of Python skin.   Head scarves of men, Kho Hpone/ Kho Hpair, Hpa-an region.  

Vol. 2


April - June 2003

PINYA : A Short Period of History PINYA : A Short Period of History Kayin Clothing