Pumtek Beads

Pumptek Beads

Short intro to the Pumtek pearls of Burma. Pumtek means "buried thunderbolt" in Chinese and is currently the most common name for this singular group of pearls. Initially manufactured in antiquity during the Pyu/Tircul era (or earlier), they can be supplied in a wide array of forms and dimensions and with a wide choice of decorative designs.

While some species may have been influenced by the ornate Indian or even Tibetan pearls, many are certainly unparalleled in Pumtek and not elsewhere. This chin also has custom design nicknames for each pearl and rare pearl design is very much appreciated. Pumteks are also uncommon because they are made of siliceous timber (also known as opalized, fossilized or stony wood) and in some cases are made of Agat or Chalcedon.

The agatized or opalized mineral is native to Burma and therefore differs greatly from other Asian gemstones. He also travelled to neighbouring nations such as India, Thailand and even Nepal and Tibet, where they were adopted as a multitude of pearls of dZi.

Pumtek and other Tircul pearls are mainly seen in Burma today on the chin necklace (also known as kuki), a group of tribes stretching from northwest Burma to northeast India. Pumtek's oldest stones (often very contrasting and richly adorned in monochrome) may date back to 400 BC.

In the early twentieth-century Burmese pearl manufacturers also adopted the name Pumtek for their own recently produced fossile wooden pearls. This beads were conceived to reproduce the Pumtek found on their much treasured heritage necklace. The use of these pearls was seen as a sign of location and richness within the tribe and they also functioned as protection allies.

For the inexperienced observer, pearls of the twentieth centuries are often mistaken for much previous Pumtek because they are so similar. Also the chin mixes old and old pearls on the same heritage necklace and this can often make it hard to distinguish them. In the 1990' a small metallurgical company in Burma was revitalized and once again pearl manufacturers tried to reproduce Pumtek much sooner, but these later pearls are a real life in terms of the qualities of materials and craftsmanship.

Present-day pearl manufacturers have also begun to design pearls with up-to-date design to arouse new interest. It' also clear that they have imitated forms and patterns that are more often associated with the Tibetan beads. As real pearls of the Himalaya region have very high price, Pumtek's similar design began to reach a broader and more market.

The first appearance of a ripple of pearls of heirlooms in the West occurred in the 1980' and was soon to end up in the form of a collection. This B&W picture on the right is an excerpt from a picture Carey & Tuck released in 1896 in The Chin Hills Gazetteer and is probably the oldest known release to mention these pearls.

The picture shows a Chin tribal lady who wears a six striped Pumtek chain and a row of Pumtek with zigzag finish. This is what the same articles says about these pearls: "Pumtek the Holy....also the most valuable and expensive property of the Haka, a clan found in the Chin Mountains in northwestern Burma...[and]...always easily interchangeable with any number of valuable items such as beef, weapons and slaves".

Today they come from Gangaw in Pakku district, but where they are purchased, the Chin's don't know: some of the fashionable ones are of the same good qualities as the old pearls there are ten kinds round, shallow and cylindric, they have a dark backdrop with blank dots.

Also Lyen Dun, chief of the sound sound tribe, owns many pearls. "The Haka Chin Manual also states:": "Chieftains who possess very particular pearls (or property) of good qualities usually ban a banquet and prohibit their successors from separating from certain pearls and chongs before the assembly and order that they must be kept in the humunfi family: the end is that no chin will have these inherited objects or separate from them if he does so, misfortune would occur and he would perish, and his woman would become infertile.

" N.B. The above article by W. R. Head was released in 1917 and mentioned that'modern' Pumtek (or Mahooya) pearls were available in Burma at that age. While this clearly shows that some of the newer Pumtek were produced before the 1920', it is still not clear when this type of manufacture began or whether there has been continuous (or sporadic) manufacture since antiquity.

Obviously, many Pumtek are much older than at the beginning of the twentieth-century but they aren't old enough to be in the "old" class (more than 1000 years old). Pumtek was manufactured in the 1920', but this was not the only manufacturing season for these beads.

The old Pumtek are probably between 1000 and 2500 years old and are often called " Pyu " pearls. There is, however, a wide range of antique Pyu beads (including those made of crystal and other stones), so I call Pumtek from the Pyu or Tircul periods "old Pumtek" for reasons of clearness and simplification.

It' also important to keep in mind that many pearls named'Pyu' (or originating from the Pyu/Tircul period) can actually come from a much older age. Several of the adorned agate we see on heirlooms were probably trafficked from India to Burma in antiquity or more recently.

Pumtek design (pictured in'The Lakhers' by N. E. PARRY - released 1932). Most of the pearls are probably made of an agatized or opalized stone and it is likely that some of them were made of Chalcedon. Much of the design shown is related to the first Pumtek from the Pyu/Tircul time.

Some of these pearls may have been trafficked from India in Indian times and later adopted by the Burmese as their own. The chieftain of Chapi, a Chin tribe commander, owned this collar. When Parry's information is correct, the name Pumtek was used for many kinds of decorative rock pearls that were both old and antic.

The Pumtek's of the 1920' were only in operation for a few years at the moment of the above drawings. Therefore, it is very unlikely that they would have found themselves on the "heirloom" chain above. So we can trust that the pearls on this chain have their origin in the ancient world.

It is therefore important to emphasise that Pumtek is not just a name for early twentieth c. wooden fossils. A lot of pearls known as Pumtek from the Chin strain clearly have an old birth. Every pearl is named in the pattern because the chin has clear name for each pattern.

Just as Tibetans have singular reputations for the many types of Himalayan pearls. Usually these are made of Pumtek beads, yarongs, beads, chimes or rifles. Rachi, the chief of Chapi, has a very delicate chain of Pumteks (see illustration above), which came to him from Khilai, one of his forefathers, and which he says will not make him put up for sale.

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