Traditional Handmade Toys

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By Ma Thanegi and Lwin Mar Htun | Photos by Nay Mone
|special features
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Apr 2017

Toys of the Myanmar children originated from the countryside where a grandfather might have whittled a cow or elephant, form a bird whistle out of clay or soak some old newspapers in glue, dry into required shapes and finally paint them to create colourful tigers or horses. These types of folk toys especially made of painted papiér-mâché can be seen at pagoda festival fairs or sold from shops along the walkways to pagodas.
In a few places near Mandalay there are annual fairs for toys, such as at the Oh-bo Quarters, where terracotta pots for various uses are made. Every year in August just at the beginning of the Spirit Festival at Taungpyone, Oh-bo erupts with stall upon stall of terracotta toy pots and pans painted in gay colours, and at the end of that powerful Spirit Festival another one begins at Yadana Gu of Amarapura which again overflows with flower and toy pots shops.


In March bird, fish and animal figures woven out of strips of dry palm leaves stained in coloured dyes are sold at the Shwe Sar Yan Pagoda some miles north of Mandalay.
Down south at the Golden Rock pagoda, bamboo stems are decorated with burnt designs and cut and attached to form lizards and snakes that wriggle.
The traditional toys are made with various materials such as wood, metal, bamboo, paper and clay. Although the toys are made with those materials, the most common material used is paper.


The process of the making toys with paper starts out with covering the carved wood with a piece of paper and making it stick together with glue. Then, it is dried in the sun and cut into the necessary shaped or design.
After that step, toys are quickly painted in bright colors. Then, lines are drawn for the eyes as classical lines to have a original look.
The toys are typically based on culture values of the people. The bull that helps man plough the earth to produce food is a favourite, as are elephants that have won ancient wars for the kings and later on, dragged out logs from jungles inaccessible to machines.
These bull and elephant toys are made of papiér-maché, as are the pair of owls that sit side by side. The owls painted a happy orange or covered in gold foil, also bring luck to the household.
The most representative of the Myanmar spirit is surely the papiér-mâché Pyit Taing Daung, the knock-a-bout toy, an egg-like being with a sweet smile. However hard it is thrown or knocked around, it remains upright, ever gracious and ever serene, full of spiritual strength in facing the realities of life without qualm.

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