Mohana Gill’s Column 23

Wonders of Myanmar - A Letter from Aunty Mohana -

posted: September 7, 2015

Did you know that people used umbrellas more than four thousand years ago?
Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks and Chinese first used them as shades. In fact Chinese first started using them against rain as well. Some traditional workshops are still found in Asia to see, how these indispensable accessories are being made.

Many kinds of umbrellas are produced in many countries, but Myanmar Traditional Umbrellas are specific and distinctive among them because of interesting raw materials and workmanship.
The most important and popular producers of umbrellas are located in Pathein.

There are two things that Pathein is very famous for. One is for their umbrellas and the other is for a special sweet that is called Pathein Halawa.

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 hundred years ago.

The first umbrellas were made of paper but as more and more umbrellas were made they became more innovative. They experimented by producing umbrellas with canopies of cotton, silk and satin with attractive floral designs.
The newly designed umbrellas became very popular with the ladies and sales expanded to the whole country.
It also attracted a lot of visitors who would purchase it s souvenirs or for decorating their walls and also for using it as unique lampshades.

The production of the pathein umbrella is more or less a family industry. The making of an umbrella is a complicated process so there is a division of labor for the various parts.
Each worker is assigned a different task, one responsible for making the framework of ribs and the other the shaft, whilst still others make 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 in his own line of work.

The shafts 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.
The canopy is then dyed in pastel shades of mauve, pink, green and blue to deflect the sunlight. It is then attached to the frame. However there are a few darker shades as well, such as black, dark blue and bottle green.
When the canopy is fixed to the rib frame, small flowers of varying shapes and colors are painted on the background color. Now days there are also paintings of landscapes and royal cities.

It is wonderful to watch how so many different parts made by different people fit in so snugly and becomes a beautiful umbrella. It opens and shuts smoothly without a hitch.
Once the umbrella is folded a small bamboo ring wrapped in colored 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.


Popping up like colorful blossoms opening to the sun, Pathein Umbrellas are one of Myanmar’s most popular souvenirs, both practical and beautiful. The bright and colorful Pathein umbrellas add grace and allure to Myanmar feminine beauty.
Pathein umbrellas of all colors and sizes are readily available in any shopping or market in Myanmar.
Umbrellas are also produced in other parts of Myanmar like Pagan and Inle but the Pathein umbrella is unique and is sought out by people who come to Myanmar.

Pathein halwa

Pathein is well known for the Middle Western inspired halwa. Halwa is a very distinctive sweet that is made with glutinous rice palm sugar Ghee and poppy seeds. It is only available in Pathein and people come from far and wide to purchase it.
They make very good gifts and very often in the shops in Pathein bus loads of people stop by to purchase this Halwa.
Of course the Halwa is now being sold all over Myanmar in the supermarkets and markets. But one of the high lights of a visit to Pathein is to go to the shop, taste the halwa and buy back for all your friends.

It started as a small family business but over the years has grown to international standard.
At one time it was all done manually but now there are mixers and steamers and all the other modern gadgets needed to prepare this hygienically and efficiently.

The taste of the halva is unlike any other kind of halwa. It is chewy sweet very aromatic and very scrumptious.
The process of making this halwa is quite complicated and time consuming. In any case why would anyone even attempt to make this when it is so easily available and you can enjoy it whenever you want to.


the author of the book “Myanmar : Cuisine, Culture & Customs” and the world prestigious “Best Asian Cuisine in The World” winning author.


“Myanmar : Cuisine, Culture & Customs”,

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