Traditional Myanmar cosmetic aims for Cultural Heritage List

Thanaka – that yellowish paste that Myanmar people of all ages, men and women alike, have smeared on their face for centuries – will be proposed for UNESCO Cultural Heritage listing, according to a government plan.

The cosmetic, made from ground tree bark, emits a fragrant scent similar to sandalwood, cools the skin and provides protection from the sun.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture will submit a proposal to UNESCO in March to include thanaka on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

“Thanaka is used by most people in Myanmar. It is found in literature, especially in the Konbaung era, as well as in songs,” said U Toe Hla, an archaeologist and chair of the Expert Group on Analysing Intangible Cultural Heritage. “It is used in religious ceremonies.”

Those who work in the sun and plant rice wear thanaka for health, and others wear it for beauty.

U Toe Hla said thanaka conforms to the requirements of the UNESCO list, which are practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals, recognise as part of their cultural heritage.

He said it is important for Myanmar to apply for the recognition of thanaka as part of its cultural heritage before other countries claim it.

Daw Nu Mya Zan, former deputy director general of the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library, said, “Myanmar thanaka is used by every ethnic people from birth to grave. It is commonly accepted around the country,” she said.

Many foreign countries distribute thanaka skin care products under different names. Some companies from Thailand and South Korea use it in cosmetic products such as foundation makeup and body lotion, but they contain less than 20 percent of thanaka, which is why Myanmar wants to put it on the UNESCO list, Daw Nu Mya Zan said.

Myanmar could receive technical assistance from UNESCO for the preservation of thanaka if it is listed.

Evidence has been collected and studies of the thanaka tradition have been completed, but other criteria need to be met before the application is submitted, such as community involvement and recognition, identity and continuity.

U Ye Myat Aung, director of the Department of Archaeology and National Museum, said thanaka will be included in the National Register of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Myanmar this month, which is part of the requirement for inclusion on the UNESCO list.

“We are almost finished preparing our submission. We believe it will be successful,” said U Ye Myat Aung.

UNESCO would take about two years to decide on Myanmar’s application. – Translated

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Source : Myanmar Times

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