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Thanakhar – Painted Faces of Myanmar (by Min Than Htut)

The land of the real smiles!

Min Than Htut of Pro Niti Travel in Yangon, Myanmar, tells us all about the why’s, how’s, and when’s of the Thanakhar painted faces of Myanmar. Welcome (Mingalabar) to the land of the real smiles!

Text by Min Than Htut, Pro Niti Travel, tour operator in Yangon, Myanmar.
Photos by Globerovers Magazine.
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myanmar, burma

Min Than Htut

Thanakhar, also spelled thanaka and thanakha, is a yellowish-white cosmetic paste which is a unique and distinctive feature of the people of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.myanmar, burma

Once you arrive in Myanmar, you will be received by welcoming smiles from faces covered in thanakhar paste!  People in this part of the world have been using thanakhar for more than 2,000 years.

Over the centuries it has remained a prominent feature in the culture of the Myanmar people. Even in the contemporary music of Myanmar are songs about beautiful women with thanakhar painted faces.

While not everybody is using thanakhar these days, it is primarily, but not exclusively, used by women and children. Different people attach different motivations for its use.

Some use it as a sunscreen as it offers a cool sensation on the skin and blocks the sun. Others attach higher value to its skin softening, skin whitening and anti-aging properties.  It is also used as a beautifying cosmetic. Creative mothers even paint attractive designs on the school kids’ faces.myanmar, burma

myanmar, burmaThe paste is primarily made from the wood of the Murraya tree, but is also made from the wood of several other locally grown trees such as the wood-apple tree. These thanakhar trees are grown in the tropical zones and there are many thanakhar trees in the central areas of Myanmar. Wood is generally deemed mature enough once the tree is over 35 years old.

The two most famous products are the Shwebo thanakhar from the Sagaing region, and Shinmataung thanakhar from the Magwe region. In addition, the Taunggyi Maukme thanakhar comes from the southern Shan State.

Traditionally users collected and ground the bark, wood, or roots, on a stone slab with water to get a smooth paste. While many people still prefer to use the traditional way of preparations, nowadays many users purchase ready-made thanakhar paste which is available in stores.

The paste is normally used about twice per day – once in the morning and again before going to bed.

Mingalabar!
Welcome to the thanakhar painted faces of Myanmar.

myanmar, burmaAbout Myanmar:

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is located in Southeast Asia.

Bordering to the west is Bangladesh, northwest is India, China to the north and northeast, Laos to the east and Thailand to the south.

With a population of well over 50 million, Myanmar is known for its variety of ethnic groups, diverse cultures, tasty food, ancient city ruins dotted with stupas and temples.

Being under United Nations sanctions for many years, Myanmar is slowly being allowed back into the global village. Hence, tourists are scrambling to visit this incredible place with incredibly hospitable people!

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For travel arrangements and bespoke tours across Myanmar, contact Min at Pro Niti Travel:
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This article appears in Globerovers Magazine, Issue 5, July 2015