The woman next to me on the slow boat between Mandalay and Bagan is getting ready to disembark. But first she engages in one of the most common rituals in Burma – the application of Thanaka – a yellow cosmetic paste made from the bark of a tree. The paste is said to protect against the sun and to enhance the wearer’s beauty.
Almost every woman and girl in Burma wears Thanaka, and some men are partial to it as well. Young girls and boys go overboard with thick layers and outrageous patterns on their faces, while grown-up women employ a more subtle touch. The tree Thanaka is produced from takes seven years to mature – the ilder the wood, the higher the price.
These days, the paste can be bought ready-made but the traditional way is to make it yourself.