< AMM >
Myanmar is a special place with its own unique flavour and style, from the delightful tea leaf salads to the fashionable longyi. However, there is perhaps nothing more quintessentially Myanmar than thanaka (pronounced tawn’- uh-kuh).
What is thanaka?
Thanaka is the name of a tree that flourishes in the arid central parts of Myanmar. Myanmars have been using thanaka (Murraya Exotica) for thousands of years. It grows in the whole country.
Drier the region better the quality. The best comes from driest regions near Pakkoku, Shwebo and Ayadaw. In fertile areas it blooms in four years. It flowers in April-May and fruits ripen in August-September. Its soft bark gives the best thanaka paste which is used to cover the skin.
Why use thanakha?
Thanaka is valued as a sunscreen and as a beauty product that keeps the skin cool, stops oiliness, tightens pores, improves the complexion and adds a pleasant, soft fragrance to the skin.
Thanaka is also used as a medicinal product to treat acne, fungus, skin sores, measles, epilepsy, poisoning and fever. People in Myanmar believe that thanaka can cool the skin and they gained self-confidence after wearing it.
Who wears thanaka?
Thanakha has a mild aroma similar to sandalwood and its scent is appreciated by all people in Myanmar. Women, men and children apply thanaka to their faces, arms and legs for a variety of reasons. In rural areas men and women apply thanaka thickly on their arms, legs and whole faces like a mask before they go out to work in the sun to prevent sunburn and sun damage to their skin. Men and women working outdoors in urban areas do the same. Urban female offi ce workers who spend less time in the sun also wear thanaka for its beauty and cosmetic purposes, often applying it with make-up artistry, creating circles, squares with fine lines and leaf patterns on their faces.
How is thanaka worn?
Thanaka branch is cut to the size about 1 to 2 inches in diameter and 6 to 10 inches long. It is ground on an especially prepared grinding stone.
Thanaka wood is firmly held horizontally in fingers of both hands and ground with a circular motion. A little water is sprinkled on the grinding stone. Thanaka bark becomes a thick paste and it is applied directly to the skin without any more preparation or addition. In conclusion, Thanaka is a tree with a long history that the people of Myanmar have used with versatility. It has been a part of people’s daily lives for centuries. The natural log and grinding stones are still found in most homes and remain part of many people’s daily bathing, beauty and health regimes. As the world shows interest in natural products and ingredients perhaps thanaka will be seen in more homes outside Myanmar as commercially made products enter overseas markets.
The Myawady Daily