A Guide to Tourism Destinations and Beyond

Vol.3  No.4   
July-September 2004

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By: Ma Thanegi

Wallpainting detail from Lawka Hteik Pan Temple, BaganDiamonds are a girl's best friend anywhere in the world, and Myanmar is no exception. We have quite a few sayings connected to diamond earring, one of which that cheeks shines from the brilliance of the earrings in reflected glory. Its not only diamonds earrings that can add allure to cheeks or the whole face or person, but for the nationalities within Myanmar, earrings of any make or design are permanent accessories. In fact, it is not only women who wear earring: many men of the various nationalities continue to adorn their ears, in the same style of their male ancestors. Not for them the diamonds or rubies, but the more manly horns, shells, tusks, solid gold or brass and even feathers. Once men from some of the nationalities such as Bama, Rakhine and Mon used to wear jewelled earrings, mostly among royalty of the wealthy class. Foreign visitors of these times noted with awe the size of the rubies in Royal earlobes.

White Lahu lady A lady from one of Myanmar's diverse hillcousins proudly shows off her earrings. A Naga granny wears earrings of translucent A Chin lady from Mindat with a greats sense of fashion. The earrings are of hollow bamboo, which she fills with flowers from her garden for special occassions Naga gentleman at the New Year's party

Kings must wear earrings as part of their formal adornments for State occassions. 
In the 16th century, the 15 year-old Crown Prince Tabin Shwe Hti of the Taungoo kingdom held his earboring ceremony on the platform of the Shwe Maw Daw Pagoda of Bago, at the time enemy territory, accompanied only by a few guards. They had gone on horseback on a moonlit night. When the army of the Bago kingdom heard of it and surounded the pagoda, Tabin Shwe Hti told the Master of Ceremonies to take his time and make sure that the ear holes were perfectly aligned. Afterwards he and his soldiers broke through enemy ranks and galloped home, leaving the Bago army bewildered but admiring his audicity.
In the West, fashions come and go about whether to pierce ears or not, or how many holes, or if earrings are the size of pinpoints or sunflowers. Here, there’s no doubt over it: a girl's two greatest honours in life are first to have her ears pierced with ceremony when she approaches puberty, or even younger, and the next when she weds. 

Khami ladies of Palet Wa Township, with silver earrings in traditional designs Girls and boys decked out in finery and carried by decorated carts on a parade during their earboring and novitiation ceremonies

The ear-boring ceremony takes place at the same time that her brothers or boy cousins are entering the monastery as novices. It is usual for relations, friends or neighbours to co-host festivities such as this, when the girls and boys are arrayed in the dress of princes and princesses and paraded through town. The girls enjoy the dressing up but the boys may feel a bit uncomfortable that they too had to wear make up.

 A Chin lady from Mindat with spectacular earring she made from dried gourd and beads An  Akhu lady of Kyaing Ton with silver earrings crafted in an old design A pair of gold filigree earrings from the 19th century once worn by a handmaiden of the royal court. Each side has a diameter of 0.75" and the length of 1.25". Due heavy earrings the ear holes of the ladies of the past could get pulled down and to wear a lighter one made of filigree gold is perfect to keep the ear from tearing and to make a new fashion statement.

If lavish feasts are not affordable, it is enough that a girl has some gold or precious gems in her ear. Some of the ethnic nationalities, however, disdain gold or jewels, and have their own way of making a fashion (and culture) state-ment. A pair of earrings is something that catches the eye of the beholder, and unlike a special hairdo or makeup needs no more attention once its in place. On his travels, Swiftwinds' designer and photographer Sonny Nyein has caught the beauty of earrings as worn by many different races all over the nation. Unsurprisingly, there are quite a number of men who can easily compete with women when it comes to fashion of the earlobes. Enjoy.

Shwe Palaung ladies of Kyaukme Khami ladies of Palet Wa Township, with silver earrings in traditional designs