The Kayaw Tribe of Myanmar

Kayaw Tribe in the Mountains

It was definitely a two dramamine day! We left the beautiful comfort of the Loikow Lodge and ran into the arms of misting rain, a very sturdy van and Clement, our brilliant guide. The goal for the day: photograph the Kayaw tribe in the very remote village of Ya A Pra. It was approximately a 2 – 3 hour drive, with hair pin turn after hair pin turn high up into the mountains. I think I got in an entire rosary on the way up since looking down was not good for my heart!

Dress of the Kayaw Tribe of Myanmar

It wasn’t until approximately 2012 that foreigners were finally able to gain access to some of the ethnic groups of Myanmar, previously closed off by the military regime. Still, few outsiders have made their way here. Needless to say that we were the only moving vehicle for most of the trip. On a very muddy road (path) feeling isolated looking out on a washed gray color blanketing the landscape, we all suddenly became attentive to a beautiful burst of bright pink as we came around a corner. Pulled over to the side of the road was a motorcycle driver with a Kayaw woman as his passenger. The driver had his pink plastic rain cover but not his passenger and the skies were threatening a downpour. Clement came to the rescue and we all got out, made our translated introductions and welcomed her into the van. I was so taken with the alchemy of beauty, brightness, ruggedness and guts that radiated from our new guest…my kind of woman! She was as quick to show us her machete as her jewelry!

Traditional Dress

Beautifully dressed, Kayaw women have elongated earlobes with metal cylinders and adorning beads. Metal coils decorate both the neck and the legs and are worn in life and into death. Old Indian and British silver coins hang from the neck behind large silver and aluminum half discs. In the Kayaw culture, these represent the beauty of the shining moon. They were and are usually given by a groom to his bride to tell her, “You are as beautiful as the shiny moon.” Mothers also pass these down to daughters to tell them, “You are my beauty, as beautiful as the shiny moon.” It is a fascinating study that diverse cultures throughout the world have associated the moon with the feminine. Carl Jung’s collective unconsciousness is alive and well.

Adornments

When we finally arrived at Ya A Pra, sad to say, there were only 3 people around. The others were all off in the fields tending to rice, millet, beans, corn, pumpkin, cucumber and mustard even though it was pouring rain. With limited time to now photograph and get back down the mountain before darkness enveloped the road, we stayed with the 3 rather than going into the fields. Even though I pride myself on exercising regularly, my appreciation goes out to the three men I was so fortunate enough to be with for all their supportive words and arms as we slogged our way straight up a muddy mountain side…the zen mantra was one step at a time! At the top, we were rewarded with a man sitting weaving baskets in his hut. I was so grateful for his gracious welcome and total acceptance of us. Strangers walked in on his world unannounced and he promptly gave us shelter from the storm. It was humbling and quite the lesson on hospitality. There was very little in his hut except for a basic cooking area. Weaving was his creative contribution to his community. Life was simple, basic and connected. Clement explained to us that one of the customs of the Kayaw people is to make coffins for each person while they are alive. Death was prepared for and accepted. When we took our leave from this gentlemen we looked up to see a mother taking care of her baby. Three people we met on this day…the beautiful strong woman, a gentle man weaving away through the day and a mother loving her child…the people, the archetypes that transcend time and my world is so much richer for it!

Basket Weaver

Mother and Child

Also, my sincere thanks go out to Swe Yi, the co-owner of the Loikaw Lodge. With her husband, Jens, they not only created such a beautiful and environmentally friendly Lodge, but they are experts on the many Burmese tribes in the area. Swe Yi was so kind to help me find out the answer to the meaning behind the silver half moon jewelry. Jens is the author of “Marked For Life” which is a fascinating in depth look at the Chin Women and their facial tattoos.