When I arrived in Myanmar I landed in Yangon like most of the tourists. But it was only a short stop before my first main goal of the trip – the Kayan state, where many tribal communities live.
First I had to find a cable shutter release. During my three months long travel through India and Myanmar I was carrying a big, old wooden large format camera and 13×18 cm negatives with me.
Unfortunately my cable shutter had broken in India and it was the only option to release my camera.
I found (possible the only one in the country) an antique camera shop and for two days we were trying with the owner to find something that would work with my camera. After that time we realized that the only thing that was working was a barbecue stick. Well… better than nothing. And it was for free
On the third day I caught a night bus to Loikaw. I had heard many legends about an AC in Myanmar buses, and unfortunately they were true. It was bloody cold. I was wearing a fleece hoodie, and I covered myself with a blanket, but still I was shivering from cold. The driver was frozen , too. He was wearing a jacket, a scarf and a hat, but he didn’t think about increasing the temperature.
The result was that I caught a cold and I was fighting it for almost two weeks. And please remember that it was a start of the coronavirus panic, so I was also worried a bit. I even bought a thermometer which had a Fahrenheit scale (we use Celsius in Poland), so I had to convert the result using the Internet every time I used it. It was also “interesting” when I took a bus six days later, from Nuangshwe to Mandalay. The night bus was supposed to arrive at 8am, but it arrived at 2am! When I reached my hotel my room was (obviously) not ready and I had to sleep with the reception guy at the reception on the two chairs. Fortunately, I was given a blanket and free breakfast in the morning what proved that people are really really nice in Myanmar.
When I arrived at Loikaw in Kayan state, I had already been snotty and I had had a headache, so I spent all day in the bed. But next day I had to pull myself together and start exploring nearby villages. My guide, Chan, turned out to be a super nice guy with a great sense of humor. For three days we had been visiting villages of Kayan and Kayah tribes.
You can read about the Kayan tribe here: http://jasieknowa.chart.civ.pl/en/album/kayan-tribe/, so I won’t repeat it in this post. Kayah tribe may have very similar name, but it’s completely different community, with other language and culture. Kayah women wear strange decorations made of phloem impregnated with resin on their legs. They also use heavy earrings, which stretches their ears. Because of that they are often called “big ears tribe”.
I was lucky enough to be invited to the Kayah’s wedding (the end of it to be clear). After mandatory meal I could see wedding divination. Most of the tribal people in that area are Christian, but the animist’s beliefs are still strong there. There where small altars and chicken bones (which they used for reading the future) everywhere. The ceremony started with killing a rooster by breaking its neck. Next the bride’s or groom’s father (I don’t know) extracted two bones from the flesh. The astrologist stuck two tiny sticks into the holes in the bones, looked carefully, mumbled and announced that married couple would live long and in a good health. Then he took the rooster, jumped on his motorbike and left the house. It didn’t look convincing to me, but this ritual was very important to Kayahs.
Sleeping in tribal village in Kayan state was not allowed, but we stayed illegally in a village chief’s house. It was outside the main area, so no one knew . The chief was 28 year old and he had been heading the village for 10 (!!!) years. Before that he had been working in different NGOs. Currently he also owns boats for canal tours and in free time he is studying Kayan-Burmese-English dictionary. Moreover, he was cooking (together with his wife) delicious food, which we consumed with a large amount of the local beer – Dagon.
When we were on a local market I noticed mice on sticks, ready to be grilled. I like eating strange things, so I thought later that it could be a good dish for our dinner. Unfortunately, my guide failed finding it but our chief brought a bunch of different worms instead.
The smaller ones were “quite normal”, but I had never seen something like the bigger ones before. The larva was the size of my hand and thick like my two thumbs. It lived underground and ate the ground, which it next expelled and built a spherical dome around. It was really disgusting but I ate it of course
People who know me, would say, that I could eat everything but even I can be disgusted by some things. When we were in one of the Kayan’s villages we were invited to a birthday party. At the entrance we were offered a millet wine and grilled pork. In poor communities you don’t waste any part of the animal, so there were scraps of the meat and skin on the grill. Unfortunately, I was given the skin with a pork nipple… What would you do knowing that it’s rude to refuse and when everyone was watching at that strange bearded tourist? I had to chew it for a while and spit it out when no one was watching.
I mentioned the millet wine. This light alcohol was drunk by everyone, including small children. Maybe because of that, Kayans and Kayahs seemed quite happy, cheerful and sociable.
I often read in comments under my photos, how poor those women are, but I still see in front of my eyes their smiles showing mouths full of teeth that were red because of chewing betel.
I remember how calm and how proud of their traditions they were. It was really a pity to leave.