|Festival IN Myanmar ## Tapoutew (Tabo-dwe)
|The Harvest Festival
Come Tabo-dwe (February), the eleventh month of the
Myanmar calendar, the Myanmar have the harvest festival. All products of
the farm and garden are made into htamane, a concoction of glutinous
rice, coconut slices, sessamum seeds, peanuts and generous amount of
Among the Myanmar, there is a custom which is called
'top priority for those to whom respect is due'. It is best illustrated
today in small towns and villages where rice is cooked in earthen pots with
humped lids and the cooked rice has a peaked shape in the top is crown of rice
is reserved for offering to monks and senior relatives and the household
shrine. If a Myanmar comes by a rare delicacy, he would set aside a portion,
however small, for "top priorities". The rarer the food, the
more care he takes to do so.
Among the agrarian people in the country it is
customary to set aside the first and the choicest products of the farm or
garden for alms giving. Hence the tradition of making htamane, which
includes most of the fruits of the land.
Htamane feast is either celebrated communally
or done in the private circle of family and friends. But with the Myanmar whose
way of life includes 'extended families' it is always a fairly large
gathering. The nature of the feast is such that it needs lots of helping
hands. There is such a lot of work to do and there is no dearth of
willing hands to help.
Even in family celebrations the harvest festival calls
for a lot of people to rally round to do the chores. Girls do the winnowing of
the rice grain. This done with flat circular bamboo trays. Each girl had
a tray half filled with rice grains. She holds the tray with both hands,
one on each end, so that her hands stay on the two opposite points of the
circular shape. This position in important, because the next movement is
to toss the grains up in the air and catch them again on the while most of the
dust and trash are blown away in the wind. Then she rolls the grains in
the tray so that the trash will separate itself from the highest from of
Since winnowing is for experts, the less talented
might try their hand at shelling peanuts. They are put in a flat bamboo
tray and a fair-sized bottle is rolled over them to remove the husks.
Then the tray is made over to the expert winnower to do away with the
husks. Since separating the husks from the seeds is not so difficult as
winnowing the small rice grains, some girls might try the tossing and rolling
themselves. This is good apprentice training fro future expert winnowers.
Boys and men tear away the fibers of coconuts, which
sometimes have to be taken down from palms soaring up to twenty to thirty
feet. The bare cylindrical trunk is none too easy to climb. It is
an exciting thing to watch men with ropes and knives go up the palm, and from a
precarious foot hold, tie a rope to the bunch is slowly slid down to the ground
where eager hands await to receive the prize.
Now to break open the coconuts, the first step is to
tear away the fibers. The built-in defence which Mother Nature has
provided for her rare delicacy does not easily yield to human hands. Not
only brute stength, but also an understanding of the intricate ways the fibers
are interwoven is required.
At long last the shell appears, but go slow,
please. Do not spoil the shape. The shape must be in a condition
that could be sliced on the carpenter's plane leaving minimum scraps. The
clear sweet milk inside is shared by the deserving workers.
Menwhile, a giant concave iron pot is put over the
fireplace, a pit dug in the ground for the purpose. with huge logs
blazing fire underneath, the oil in the iron pot sizzles and shredded ginger is
the first to go in, followed by glutinous rice which had been soaked in water.
A large cauldron of water boiling in another dug-out
fireplace is kept ready to be added to the glutinous rice cooking in the
pot. Hot water is added slowly in small portions, stirring the mixture as
things go along. When the rice is soft enough and there is no water left,
the pot is removed from the fire.
The glutinous rice in the pot is soft and pliant with
oil oozing out. The big pot is secured with bricks and stones, its base
begin to stir the rice, crushing it between the ladles. Even as they stir
and crush, the rice gets sticker, so they have to use not only strength but
skill to make the coagulate mass yield to the ladles.
After some time of vigorous stirring and crushing,
people come round to add slices of coconut and peanuts, slowly and in small
portions to make the whole thing a good mixture. By this time crushing
and stirring can no longer be done by two men; another pair is called in.
Now two men are at the top end of the ladles while the other two take hold of
the lower ends. Those at the top end guide the movement while the two at
the base exert all their strength to bring the mass of glutinous rice together
between the ladles so that they are thoroughly crushed.
Sessamum seeds are added last. This
last portion does not call for strength, but it needs skill, so they say.
While others are pitting their might to stir and crush and mix the glutinous
rice and other ingredients, the one who 'spreads the sessamum seeds' sits
by, sprinkling the seeds by handfuls at regular intervals. The blend and
the flavour and the taste of the htamane depends on the art of the
sessamum seed sprinkler--so it is claimed by the seesmum seed sprinkler.
'Sprinkling seeamum seeds' is Myanmar idiom not meant,
I am afraid, to describe some commendable work, but to disparage something
people do only after others have done the dirty work.
Come to think of it, I am, perhaps doing the same
thing. Whatever participation I have ever had in the harvest festival is
may appreciation of htamane and the propagation of the creed. I am
sprinkling sessamum deeds; figuratively, by writing this piece. This goes
to show that the pen is mightier than the giant ladles that stir and crush the htamane.