Burma is a colourful place, particularly in the clothes department. There’s no concept of “The New Black” round here; black was never in. Bright and beautiful is the norm across all 135 of Myanmar’s diverse ethnic groups, which, as well as having distinct traditions and dialects, have their own tribal textiles and outfits. That’s a helluva lot of textiles.
While jeans and t-shirts are undoubtedly on the up, on tribal national days, weddings and special occasions everybody proudly dons their identifying uniform.
Let’s have a look at the outfits of the Chin Tribe, our “mother” tribe (Kalinko coming from Ka-Lin-Kaw, a Chin sub-group). We’ll start from the chin down…
If you’re in Northern Chin State, you may find a head-hunter necklace just below the chin. Borrowed from the nearby Naga tribes, this is traditionally the symbol of a successful hunter, and an excellent way to ward off unwanted intruders.
Handwoven tunics are woven and worn by the women of the Laytu Chin Tribe. These are usually fuchsia and heavily beaded. Traditionally the beads would have been seeds or shells, but more commonly today they use little glass or plastic beads.
Hakha Chin women will most likely wear broad silver or gold coloured bands round their waist, partly to keep their longyi in place (useful!), and partly as a display of beauty.
Many Chin tribes will wear an intricate ankle-length Longyi, called a Htamein for women and Pasoe for Men. These could be striped, intricately patterned, beaded or plain, but will almost always be brightly coloured.
The women of the Khumi Chin tribe wear a shorter, tube-skirt, with a long beaded fringe. Traditionally, they didn’t wear anything else at all, but with time a sort of modesty shawl, called an akhin was added, and today’s Khumi women wear a shirt underneath this as well.
A crucial part of the Laytu Chin tribe’s appearance, this time from the chin up, is their facial tattoos (look closely!). Nobody knows how long this tradition has been alive for, nor the real meaning behind the patterns, but in remote parts of Southern Chin tattooed women still exist, their faces reflecting the intricate weaving patterns of their tunics.
At Kalinko, some of our cushions start life as pieces of tribal clothing. While traditional clothing is worn less and less, it is still very much part of a weaver’s repertoire in Burma, and we are keen to preserve the original purpose of weaving in our products. While we work closely with the weavers to create new palettes, we stick steadfastly to their traditional patterns, not wanting to interfere with their significance or meaning, and to ensure that the products remain true to their source.
Here are some of our favourites: