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    Tropical Punch Tour: Myanmar Part 11

    Saturday, August 21, 2010
    Taungbyone, Myanmar

    A nat kadaw commands the mic at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    A shrine for the nat spirits at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    A cymbal player and a drummer beat time and increase the heat at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    In a futile and laughable attempt to beat the heat, I set out for Taungbyone in the late afternoon. But, that didn’t matter, because it’s miserably hot 24 hours per day in Southeast Asia. Most forms of transport in Myanmar won’t depart until they’re full, and, true to form, the bus I got on sat for 20 or 30 minutes. A few ladies climbed aboard, but not enough for the driver to launch a mission. I finally got tired of waiting and wedged myself into the back of a packed mini-truck headed for Taungbyone. I sat with my back up against the cab, right in the middle of a bunch of locals and families–practically on top of their feet. It was uncomfortable as hell, but I loved every minute.

    This kind lady fanned me for a half hour non-stop at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    A nat kadaw and thanaka paste-covered woman make quite a pair at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    Close-up on another cymbal player and a drummer at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    Upon arrival, I skipped the impossibly crowded main temple and went straight to the myriad smaller nat pwe events that were going down in the seemingly endless thatched huts of the back alleys. I didn’t have to walk far to come across one. Sometimes two of them were blasting away right across a dirt lane just a few feet away from each other! At the center of each was the nat kadaw, a very highly revered figure in the nat subculture. “A flamboyant and charismatic master of ceremonies dressed in elegant costume, the kadaw is a spirit medium, dancer, storyteller, and magician who exposes the crowd to a living incarnation of the nat. Many of the kadaws are male crossdressers performing the role of female Nats.”–Sublime Frequencies

    A singer gives me a big smile during the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    A nat kadaw performs services for a congregation at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    Gongs galore at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    To help relieve the effects of extreme heat, nat pwe attendees constantly fan the nat kadaws and each other. At the first show I stepped into, an incredibly nice, matronly lady noticed me soaked in sweat and gushing gallons more, then she fanned me for a half hour non-stop. I was already a very humble person, but that little act of supreme kindness humbled me about 2,684,598 billion times more. A while later, as I was leaving that hut compound, the same lady made sure I found my way out okay, then smiled and waved as I walked away. I know that will be one of the most memorable moments of this whole three-and-a-half month trip.

    It doesn't get any more stylish than this! A nat kadaw busts a move in front of the faithful at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    A little lady belts out a big tune at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    A hne and kyi waing player get on with it at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    In the next pwe, several women were caught in the throes of an ecstatic trance dance, which I luckily caught on video, while in another, a tranny queen all dolled up in a long, sparkling pink dress entertained her entourage with some stylish moves then plied them with whiskey. An elderly lady nat kadaw blessed her troupe in a quiet and somber moment at yet another event, while a couple of others down the lane sashayed in the most stylish manner you could ever dream of.

    A flamboyant ceiling is easily overshadowed by two brightly attired nat kadaws at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    Nat worshippers engage in an ecstatic trance dance at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    A chauk lone bat drummer wails the night away at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    And all the while, within each pwe, a traditional Burmese orchestra worked the faithful up into an absolute frothing frenzy. As the drummers pounded away on their skins, the cymbals, clappers, gongs and wood blocks joined in–all with so much gusto, exuberance and joy, it felt like the Earth was just being born. The icing was slathered onto this big, wild, quivering cake by the little lady singer, who belted out a high-pitched, reverb-drenched melody that brought it all home to the Burmese nat worshipping faithful.

    A singer eggs on a nat kadaw at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    Two nat kadaws perform services at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    A kyi waing player commands the ring of fire at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    Around 1:00 a.m., I checked up on the main temple, but it was still overwhelmingly crowded. Completely spent, I made my way through the muddy, trash-filled dirt paths, over a stinky creek or two and out past all of the vendor stalls into the loud, chaotic transport lane, where I was lucky to score shotgun in the cab of a big pickup truck heading back to Mandalay. And it only cost a dollar! I never saw any tourists all day, except, ironically, right as I was leaving. The next day, one guy told me he stayed until 5:00 a.m. and the festivities were still going strong! (The last day is August 25.) The Taungbyone nat pwe easily ranks as one of the top ten events I’ve ever attended, and one of the funnest times of my whole life. It doesn’t get any more raw and real than this!

    A nat kadaw mugs it up for my lens at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    Clap on! Clap off! A let ko player clacks time at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    The Taungbyone brothers surround their mother at the nat pwe in Taungbyone, Myanmar.

    Roll over photos for captions.
    All words and photos ©2010 Arcane Candy.

    One response to “Tropical Punch Tour: Myanmar Part 11”

    1. Wolf in bangkok says:

      ya interesting…… surprising that you did not see me there…. I was there 4 days and nights….. and at night I did not see any other Western there….. but you missed one BIG POINT: the Taungbyone Nat Pwe is actually South-East-Asia’s biggest GAY EVENT as thosuands of gays not only from Myanmar, but as well from neighboring Thailand meet and gather. for the Burmese gay community, it is THE WEEK of the year to be “themselves” and meet likeminded people in a country, where less than 1% of the population has a chance to use the internet.
      and they all mix happily with families and their young kids, and all are having a blast ! booked my flight to Myanmar for August 2011 already – free ticket again with AirAsia ( O Baht from Bangkok plus Airport Tax ^_^ )

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