By Jaycee Jung
Myanmar is known for its culture and diversity, with more than 130 tribes and ethnicities. The country’s many tribes have distinctive cultural identities and even preferred textiles like cotton, silk and other fibres. The moment you walk on the street of Myanmar, you will notice that most of the men and women wear long cloths tucked at the waist that resemble skirts or sarongs. The people of Myanmar are known to wear their national costume called the longyi, for nearly every occasion, from simple daily routines to formal events. The national costume is very simple, but this reflects the easygoing lifestyle of the locals.
The longyi is similar to those worn by the people of India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka; the longyi has been part of Myanmar life for generations. The fabric of a longyi is long and it runs down to the feet. The locals normally wear the longyi by wrapping it around the waist and keeping it in place with a knot. The cylindrical piece of fabric is usually around 2 metres long.
How to Differentiate Longyis?
Men’s longyis are called ‘pasoe’. They usually pair pasoe with ‘taipon’, their traditional outfit, but it is more common to see the men pairing pasoe with comfortable T-shirts and singlets. The pasoe is made without a waist band, so it could get loose and it is a common sight to see men tightening their pasoe knot on the streets. The designs are simple, usually with plain colours, stripes or chequered prints. The wearer can put on the pasoe however he wants as there is no difference, inside-out or upside down.
Women wear ‘htamein’ with their traditional outfit called ‘thummy’, but like the men, they prefer wearing comfortable and airy blouses to pair with their skirts. Unlike pasoe, htamein has a specific method of wearing as it has a right-side up, marked with a black band (htet sint) located at the waist area. The bottom of the htamein is tighter, which restricts the wearer’s movements, but this is seen as graceful for ladies in Myanmar. The patterns of htameins are brighter in colours and there are more variety to its designs. Women also wear floral patterns (zar) for weddings and graduation ceremonies.
Functions of Longyi
The temperature in Myanmar can rise up to 40°C, and one of the ways locals cope with this is by wearing longyi. The thin material of the cloth allows air circulation that cools down the wearer’s body temperature. Ask any local and he or she would say that they prefer longyi over denim jeans or trousers as it is constricting and uncomfortable.
The locals wear longyi while doing chores and even sporting activities. Men wear pasoe when they play football or cane ball. To avoid getting their legs caught on the long cloth, they pull the front part of the fabric backwards, between the legs, and tuck it behind the waist. This ultimately creates a shorts-like bottom for them to move freely about and stay agile in activities.
Longyi is also worn by men and women in public bath areas that serve as a cover for modesty, especially in rural areas where public baths are more common. They would change their longyi by putting on a new one before removing the old longyi.
Longyi of Tribes
Longyi styles differ for some of the ethnicities. Women of Kachin wear htamein with colourful patterns against bright red colour. Bamars wear silk longyi in bright, shiny colours and some have zig-zag patterns on them. People of Kayin wear longyi with simple horizontal stripes. The colours and designs are not made just to look good on the wearer – the designs of Kayin longyi actually determines the rank of the wearer in the community. Chin longyi have vibrant colours and vertical stripes, whereas longyi in Shan state are made from indigenous looms.
Travel around Myanmar looking like a local by getting a longyi for yourself.You can easily find them at the markets, and maybe have a chance to practise your bargaining skills! Put on the longyi, blend in to the Burmese environment, move around with comfort and make your trip to Myanmar an unforgettable experience.