While waiting for our flight to Yangon, I tried to research for the best souvenir I can buy in Myanmar. I read that one of the local handicrafts that is popular in Myanmar is lacquerware in Old Bagan.
Laqcuerware Products being sold in Shwezigon Pagoda
Lacquerware in Old Bagan Myanmar
Lacquerware art is one among the many traditional arts and crafts of Bagan. The roots of Lacquerware in Old Bagan can be traced back to China, and the trees of lacquer are found widely in Myanmar’s forests. The origin of the art and its appearance in the country is still a puzzle but Lacquerware making has become a household industry in Old Bagan.
Burmese Design of Lacquerware
While having a horse cart tour of Old Bagan, I asked my driver if he can take me to a place that produces Lacquerware. He brought me to a factory that is owned by his friend but since it was a public holiday in Old Bagan, Laquerware artists are not required to work that day.
High Quality Lacquerware in Old Bagan
Though the art of Lacquerware making in many countries is not give much importance, but for Myanmar it is a pride. History says, the kings of Myanmar gifted silk, lacquer, and jewelry as gifts. There are two kinds of lacquer that exist in Myanmar, the first one being resin lacquer which is also called “thit si” and the other being “cheik”. Lacquerware are of six kinds namely Kyauk Ka Ware, Yun Ware, Shwezawa ware, Thaa-Yo, Hmanshi Swecha, and Man Lacquer ware.
Lacquerware Gallery in Old Bagan
The origins of Lacquerware are seen to have come from Bagan and although the art is spread throughout the country, the art of Lacquerware making finds its nobility only in Bagan. Bamboo is the raw material used to produce different objects and bamboos required to make the inner part of the Lacquerware comes from the forests of Chin state. The bamboo is softened and cut out to make objects of any desired shape. The next step is lacquering which involves applying lacquer and the quality of the objects lies in the coated layers.
Lacquerware Making Facility in Old Bagan
The coated layers are dried and the time taken for drying is usually a week. A good quality Lacquerware requires sufficient moisture and every workshop in Bagan have places with corresponding qualities to produce superior quality Lacquerware. Lacquers are carefully washed once the drying process is over. Washing is a crucial phase in the art of Lacquerware making and this is the phase that decides on the future of the quality of Lacquerware.
Old and New Lacquerwares in the Gallery
The first layer of the coating is dried, washed, sandpapered and then the second layer is coated. The mixture becomes fine with the continuous coating of layers. Coloring is done only on the uppermost layer of the object and the colors featured are usually red, blue, yellow, or green. The colors are made by adding mercury cinnabar powder to the lacquer. The last stage i.e. drying consumes time and the layers are again sandpapered.
The layers are decorated and this is usually done with hands. The artists who engrave decorations on the Lacquerware are experts in their job and they don’t need a model or memory to do it. The lacquer once decorated is immune to alterations and is capable of preserving beauty over the years. The designs are usually elephant or monkey figures, floral designs, lady or female figures and more.
The piece of work can be observed in the Pagodas of Myanmar and in various other places in the country. Once the process of decoration is over, the Lacquerware is ready to be exported to any part of the globe.