Myanmar traditional toys still to this day play a big part in family life. The toys are often seen to reflect the culture values of Myanmar, with a toy bull representing the bull that farmers have great affection for and that ploughs the field, while the toy elephant refers to the noble elephants that have fought ancient wars for the kings.
Although children in Myanmar are quickly catching up with modern day toys such as battery powered cars, and video games, traditional toys are very much still at large. You’ll see them for sale across Myanmar, in both homes and for sale in small stalls. So lets take a look at some of the more popular Myanmar traditional toys, and the values they represent.
Pyit Taing Htaung
Most traditional toys are made from paper mache and this is the case with Pyit Taing Htaung. This popular toy is in the shape of an egg with a smiling face painted onto it. Inside the egg, there is a small weight at the bottom which helps the smiling face to always stay upright, even when rolled. Young children play with the egg, rolling it around with their friends out on the street or at home.
“Pyit Taing Htaung” means “that which always remains upright, even when thrown down.” The toy is meant to represent a person who has been knocked down by life, but who rises again, always with a smile on their face. With Pyit Taing Htaung as a toy, children in Myanmar are taught never to give up.
These eggs can be found all over Myanmar, particularly in the entrances of pagodas such as the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.
Zee Kwet in Burmese means owls. In Myanmar stories, much like the rest of the world, owls often take the role of a wise animal. Zee Kwet are the same in this respect, and are meant to bring luck and prosperity to the family who owns them. While being classed as a toy in Myanmar, they are rarely played with and usually sit on a high platform, overlooking the room beneath them.
Just like Pyit Taing Htaung, they are made of paper mache. The craftsmen will carve out two figures from softwood, and use these as the templates for the owls, covering them in golden paper before allowing them to dry and then cutting them free. The owls will always come as a pair, representing a male and female owl, with the female owl sometimes having an owlet at the bottom to represent a family.
“Oh- Bo” means clay pots in Burmese. These tiny pots are made into small versions of kitchen wares for children who love to pretend to cook. Some are very basic, but others are very intricate, with bright colours, and carefully designed shapes.
To display traditional values of Myanmar, every August, at the beginning of the Taung Pyone Festival, Mandalay celebrates the annual toy pot festival. This is where potters gather and sell their artworks. The items are usually tiny pots, toys, kettles and animals. The festival overflows with not only children but also adult collectors.
In Burmese this is called “Yoke The’“. There are 19 different characters in a single performance that are controlled by puppeteers. In the days of kings, troupes of puppeteers were commissioned and hired by royal families and were used not only for entertainment but also to give moral lessons to princes and princesses. Nowadays, you can find marionette puppets in souvenir shops in Yangon and in other destinations around Myanmar.
You can even go and watch a performance given by one of the best troupes in Myanmar on our traditional tour in Yangon.
Old vs New
Traditionally, children in Myanmar would love the festival night markets and the stairways leading up to a pagoda as these were where they can find these Myanmar traditional toys. These events would bring together people with toys and traditional food for sale.
Nowadays however, these toys are being substituted with modern ones that more often then not are made of plastic. We spoke to the owners of Myint Family Burmese shop at the Shwedagon Pagoda who said “Most urban kids nowadays prefer modern toys, so the demand for these old toys has dropped over the past few years. At the moment our most regular customers are collectors and foreigners”.
With this trend becoming more and more obvious, it might only be a matter of time before we begin to see these beautiful traditional toys disappearing from the streets of Myanmar.