When looking at pictures from Myanmar, people nearly always ask “what’s that?” pointing at the whitened faces.
“It is thanaka” I answer and explain that it is a paste made from ground tree bark mixed with water. Originally, as the story says, it was sandalwood. It is believed as well, that thanaka has been popular in Burma for around 2000 years now. Nowhere in South-East Asia have I found so many people using thanaka. It is definitely most popular with women who would decorate their face and children who would apply the paste as a circular patch on each cheak.
So I was using it especially when traveling around during hot season. One of the main benefits from using the paste is a cooling effect. I would spread the paste not only on my face but would rub it against my arms, neck and calves. It kept me cooler and prevented from sweating. Amazing 2000-year-old “invention”.
The other advantage of thanaka is preventing the body from sunburn. In many South-East Asian countries white skin is perceived as much more beautiful. It is a bit different than in western countries where pretty often sunburn means having money and time to enjoy sun. In Asia it means “physical work” which results in the need to be exposed to sun. Having so many whitening cosmetics on the shelves, the South East Asians do care how they look.
One last but not least – for women it can be a substitue of skin improving cosmetic and make up. Many Myanmar men would consider a girl beautiful only with thanaka on. Well, I guess in cities is has changed by now and colourful cosmetics might result in “more magic” 🙂 One of my favourite Myanmar singers, RZarni whose “Thanaka Lover” praises the value of a traditional Myanmar girl with thanaka on, might be a great example of seeing the advantges of the paste 🙂 Tha Nat Khar Chit Thu – R Zar Ni
And here they are – typical thanaka acessories:
– “thanaka” tree bark
– a circular stone slab for grinding powder from the bark
– water for mixing it with the powder
– brush for applying the paste (you may easily use your fingers as well 🙂 – I did so)