A visit to smoking Ogre

2020-04-23edit Ye Naung

Photo by - Aung Khant 

Among legendary antagonists, demon king Ravana (Dattagiri in Burmese), a notorious ogre in it for love, is so popular in Myanmar people. We find him in traditional Zat Pwe and also in literature, but I had never expected to see him at the tobacco pipe, which was puffed by a man passionately.

His name is U Mann Ngwe Win, who is in his middle seventy. An artistic pipe was decorated with Dattagiri ogre statue, which has ten heads, and the ogre is alive in the smoke as if it is a living being. U Mann Ngwe Win inherited his passion from his grandfather, U Nyunt, a pioneer in the pipe-carving field, which started when Myanmar was still a British colony.  U Nyunt would roam the forest searching for material and sculpt his pipes out of buffalo horns. According to his grandson, U Nyunt’s art eventually attracted fans beyond Ogre Island.

Photo by - Aung Khant 

In the history of Myanmar tobacco pipe handicraft, Ywar Lut of Ogre Island was very famous in the country. High-quality product, “made in Ywar Lut” was very successful not only in local but also abroad. But, after the 1990s, the handicraft business was fallen badly and faced luck of local skillful craft men.  Moreover, there a very few youths want to be an apprentice in this sector but they were willing to work as migrate works in Thailand, a neighboring country.

Photo by - Aung Khant 

However, there are some historical facts about making tobacco pipes, which are more ancient than in the Ywar Lut of Ogre Island. In ancient times, Myanmar people made earthen tobacco pipes around the country but there are almost no pieces of evidence, such as ancient tobacco pipe big stoves, to prove it. To rely on strong evidence, there is only stupa in TatarOo townships, which is nearby Inwa city, so-called Say O Poe pagoda, as it is called by the local community. When the stupa was maintained, they found a lot of earthen tobacco pipes, in the precinct of the pagoda.

Photo by - Aung Khant 

It is physical evidence of Myanmar pipes handicraft. If you say it by literature, Mel Kwe( 1150-1210) composed a poem which is evidence of Myanmar custom of smoking pipe. In this poem, she wrote about someone who feels intrigued to smoke or not, which is offered by a loved one. More ancient poem was written by Wun Gyi Pa De Tha Yaza. In his poem, a farmer is cultivating in the paddy field, puffing a tobacco pipe. Anyway, it is undeniable facts that those ancient Myanmar people smoke tobacco pipe.

Myanmar Handicraft of Tobacco pipe nowadays

Photo by - Aung Khant 

Once, every household in his village would have its workshop. Nowadays though, only five houses are still in business due to the meager income. The average pipe-sculptor makes 5 pipes a day and sells just as many - not enough to make a living. In Ywar Lut village, the origin of pipes is U Nyunt. But, nowadays, fewer and fewer people are interested in pipe crafting, an issue which keeps U Mann Ngwe Win awake at night.

Photo by - Aung Khant 

Myanmar’s handicrafts are the heritage of a thousand years ago. In addition to the scant research available there is also a limited amount of other publications on Myanmar handicrafts (e.g. Conway 2006; Dell & Dudley 2004; Fraser & Fraser 2006; Fraser-Lu 1994, 2000; Isaacs & Blurton 2000; Lowry 1974; Ma Thanegi 2013; Than Htun 2013), the focus of which has primarily been on the historical background of Myanmar’s handicrafts, specific handicraft industries, technical processes, specific ethnic groups, and their traditional handicrafts, and/or Buddhist handicrafts, with some acting as a reference for astute collectors. None of these have focused on the livelihood development of Myanmar artisans, including the marketing aspects of Myanmar handicrafts. As that intelligentsia are very professional and they might don’t want to invade out of their academic boundaries.

How to get the Ogre Island?

Photo by - Aung Khant 

If you want to visit the Orge Island, you can drive there to explore the 78 villages of the Island, via a bridge of Mawlamyine. The island was too massive to walk, bike, or navigate on your own, so you need a local guide. There are not only crafting tobacco pipes, but you can also explore natural beauty panorama and handicraft of slates.

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A visit to smoking Ogre
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