Monday, August 6, 2007


A Parasol from Pathein

The umbrella industry of Pathein, the capital of the Ayeyarwady Division of Myanmar’s delta region, is well known worldwide. This cottage industry was established in Pathein over a hundred years ago.

The first umbrellas were made of paper, but through experience the makers became innovative and began to produce umbrellas with canopies of cotton, silk and satin with attractive floral designs. These newly fashioned umbrellas gained popularity with the ladies and sales expanded to the whole country. It also attracted visiting foreigners who would purchase Pathein umbrellas as souvenirs or for interior decoration on walls and for use as unique lampshades.

The production of the Pathein umbrella is more or less a family industry, and there is division of labour in the making of a single umbrella. Each worker is assigned a different task, with one responsible for making the framework of ribs and another the shaft, with still others making the canopy, the grip, the hub which holds the ribs together, and even the wedge or switch for opening and closing the umbrella. Each person works separately and is a specialist so to speak in his own line of work.

The shaft and ribs of the umbrella are made of bamboo and the hub and grip from softwood known locally as “Ma-U Thit”. The raw materials of bamboo and wood are obtained from the lower hill slopes of the Rakhine Yoma Mountain Range near Chaungthar, which is close to Pathein.

When all the different parts made by different craftsmen are ready, they are put together to make an umbrella. Then the canopy, dyed in pastel shades of mauve, pink, green and blue to deflect the sunlight, are attached to the frame, but there are a few darker shades too, such as black, dark blue and bottle green. When the canopy has been fixed to the rib frame, small flowers of varying shapes and colours are painted on the background colour.

The wonder of it is that many different parts made by different hands all fit so snugly together, that one is able to open and close the umbrella smoothly without a hitch. Once the umbrella is folded then a small bamboo ring wrapped in coloured wool thread and attached with the same thread to an indentation on the grip, can be slipped on to the folded umbrella to keep it tightly closed.

The bright and colourful Pathein umbrella seems to give added grace and allure to Myanmar feminine beauty. Pathein umbrellas in all sizes and colours are readily available in any shopping arcade or market throughout Myanmar, and since it does not take up much space when neatly folded, it would be ideal for foreigners to buy this lovely item as a gift for someone special.

Pathein umbrellas are now beginning to catch the eye of young women from abroad. So, may be some day soon, the picture of a willowy young girl swaying gracefully along catwalk with a Pathein umbrella shading her could become part of the international fashion scene.

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