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January 12th 2007
Published: January 16th 2007
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Funeral Dancers 1Funeral Dancers 1Funeral Dancers 1

To celebrate the life and death of a local monk, the residents of Sittwe performed traditional dances for a 3 hour period late one evening. It was the one night I was in town. Blessed.
The darkening evening has overtaken the bustling of the daytime and the streets should be quiet. But tonight is a special day in Sittwe, the Rhakine State of Western Myanmar. Although historically the pageantry of this area has been much bigger, tonight is a more modest occassion to celebrate and be happy with life. As a foreigner you have stumbled across the night's activity because it takes place only a block away from your hotel.
Hundreds of locals are assembled, some costumed, others wearing the days work clothes. The young babies are wrapped up warmly and held tight. The bicycle rickshaws are parked on the outer edge of the crowd where people climb atop them to get a better view. Six commercial halogen lamps have been specially hung outside a local shop to indicate where the festivities will be held. Soon you will witness something that you could never imagine existing; a local custom that is rarely seen let alone talked about in the traveller's circle. Tonight the community is celebrating the life of a local Buddhist monk who has passed away from this life and gone on to be reborn anew in a different form. His body remains.
Funeral Dancers 2Funeral Dancers 2Funeral Dancers 2

The boys here wore pearls and jewels reminiscent of local kings from the past. Individually decorated costumes and headresses showed a real passion for the tradtion of the dance. The lipstick being worn was not uncommon to see on boys in every day life in the more rural cities.
Down the street a rocket flares. Fireworks and light accompany this rocket down the street until it enters the building with the halogen lamps. From the building emerge 30 girls dressed in a deep pink/magenta. Their hair is sculpted beautifully and their movements are graceful, from the slow steps to the delicate twirling of the wrists and positioning of fingers. Aftwer some time more dancers emerge. This time it's young men wearing white shirts, yellow wraps, and crowns fashioned with fake jewels. Their make up, lipstick, and jewelry has no feminine reference here, but instead harks to the time of local kings and tradition. You're ushered to front row views. Local school children seek you out and practice very broken english. A donation to the monastery will put you in the spotlight and garner you a friendly round of applause. Doors are opened so you can ascend to the 2nd floor for better viewing. Step ladders are cleared for the same reason. The overwhelming friendliness and attention you receive is enough to make you feel very self-cnscious and shy. It's enough to make you swap out your large camera for a more non-discript pocket camera. Only later do you learn
Funeral Dancers 3Funeral Dancers 3Funeral Dancers 3

Under halogen lights in the main street is where the event took place. Locals were so curteous and proud that they ushered me to the front row, invited me to their 2nd floor homes, made room atop ladders, all so I could get a good photo. I felt rather shy about the fuss.
from locals that the rocket held the body of the monk and would later be turned to ashes. The next day you will take a boat to the former capital of the Rhakine Kingdom, the origin of such traditions. But not before you spend a few hours talking with the fascinated locals, stumbling in Rhakine, stumbling in English, but smiling plenty.

This was my one lucky night in Sittwe.

Also included in this blog are photos I took in Yangon, Sittwe, or other places I "stopped over" at. Each was fascinating in and of itself. Yangon, Myanmar's capital city is a great place to wander. You won't find a McDonalds anywhere, let alone a Starbucks. The closest thing to western culture here was a "Tokyo Donuts" in the colors of Dunkin Donuts. Other than that, there weren't even KFC knock offs. This is one of the first things I noticed looking down the main streets. Upon closer examination I saw that all the details were of unique origin. Where was globalization? All the calendars being sold on the streets were made of a very raw paper. Later I would happen upon the paper district, 3
Monk FuneralMonk FuneralMonk Funeral

The locals are gathered to watch the dancing, listen to the live music, laugh at the prankster-like monster, and celebrate the end of a local monk's life. (just this life anyways.)
blocks jammed with small distributors selling various sizes and styles of paper for commercial use. Every building was painted a beautifully aged blue. Mass production of goods was noticeably low and the city abounded with commercial districts...paint powders...rope...paper...medicine...threads...fabrics...rubber...herbs. The stalls were small and packed in, giving a very intimate experience to even the casual wanderer like myself. I've never been to an urban area that was so tangible in experience. The colors, smells, textures, and people fascinated me at every 10 steps. Yangon has the wonderful Schwedagon Paya...a massive golden pagoda (paya) with ridiculous amounts of jewelry and diamonds adorning its top was certainly impressive...but like most places I went in Myanmar, its the people and the fabric of the communities that leave the most impact.

Not convinced to visit yet? I've got two more blogs on Myanmar on the way.

Additional photos below
Photos: 14, Displayed: 14


Me and The MonsterMe and The Monster
Me and The Monster

This joker offered the comic relief during the dance performances. Notice the exagerated testicles. Pure genius. Later he let me wear his crown and cardboard sword.

A young boy attending the monk funeral festivities.
3 Girls3 Girls
3 Girls

3 girls watching the dances from the second floor.
Footbal at sundownFootbal at sundown
Footbal at sundown

In Sittwe, not far from the local monastary, young men play a pick-up game at sundown.
Sign WriterSign Writer
Sign Writer

A former professor and local sign writer. Here he is making another sign for another funeral. Written down, Burmese has a remarkable asthetic.
Sittwe Banana BoySittwe Banana Boy
Sittwe Banana Boy

The market place in Sittwe was full of tastes, aromas, sights and sounds. Inside a dark wooden building friendly women and young boys sold bananas by the treefull.
Fish Jerky in the makingFish Jerky in the making
Fish Jerky in the making

The Sittwe fish market displayed large splayed fish hanging to dry. Very unique in my experience as I haven't seen anyone dry fish like this.
Paper District YangonPaper District Yangon
Paper District Yangon

Attracted to this street's wonderful colors, I happened upon Yangon's paper district.
The Germans and the Swiss (singular)The Germans and the Swiss (singular)
The Germans and the Swiss (singular)

I travelled Sittwe, Mrauk-U, and Ngapali with these gentlemen. Pictures and posts to follow soon.

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