Lighting up Mandalay
THE traditional Myanmar lantern is a popular decoration for many households around the country – especially leading up to Thadingyut (October 14 to 16), the festival of lights.
Ko Phoe Kyaw, a local craftsperson known for his bamboo-framed lanterns, is now busy at work in Mandalay’s Maha Aung Myay township.
But he told The Myanmar Times that making lanterns is an art form from another era, as fewer and fewer people make them each year.
“In the past, nearly the whole ward worked as lantern makers. But now, only three or four make them here. Some people start up their business close to the festival but they don’t spend all their days making lanterns,” he said.
Ma Kyi Kyi Htay, also a local lantern maker said, “Chinese-made lanterns and toy cars are also big in the market, but local handmade lanterns and toy cars are still very popular.”
Local craftspeople face the challenge of getting enough bamboo to make their products, she added.
Bamboo is the main raw material of the business and often craftspeople cannot import enough to meet the demands of the market.
“And this business can’t earn a regular income. That’s why the number of people doing it is decreasing,” she said.
One of the most popular and recognisable lanterns is the car-framed lantern with wheels.
To make them, craftspeople frame the cars with bamboo sticks and then attach different coloured polythene paper, according to Ko Phoe Kyaw.
Other toy lanterns come in various shapes, including airplanes, ships, rabbits, and horse and buggies, and range from K500 to K10, 000.
Ma Thidar, another lantern and toy seller in Mandalay, said she “sells both locally made lanterns and Chinesemade lanterns.”
“Myanmar traditional lanterns are some of the best-sellers and the sales are high close to the festival.”
Though Myanmar traditional lantern makers must compete with Chinese-made lanterns and a dwindling appreciation for the art, many businesses reported that the sale of local colourful paper lanterns is on the rise as time inches closer to Thadingyut.
Lantern sales rise before Thadingyut.
A craftsperson works in his Mandalay shop.