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Pyit Taing Htaung: The Merging of Family, Pagoda Life and Globalization in a Traditional Toy from Myanmar

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Pyit Taing Htaung are funny, bright, and whimsical toys traditionally made from papier-mâché in Myanmar.

While their original use as toys for kids in the countryside may be dwindling in an ever globalizing world, the traditional toys still attract foreign and city-dwelling customers (Surana 2017).

What was their initial use? What do they mean in the world of today?
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Pyit Taing Htaung (ပစ်တိုးတောင် in Burmese) refers to an egg-shaped toy with a brightly painted face that represents just one type of the many traditional papier-mâché toys made in Myanmar.

The translation of the toy's name indicates its significance: pyit (to throw) taing (each time) htaung (upright), together roughly means, "each time you throw it, it stands up."  This is because Pyit Taing Htaung have a weight at the bottom that allows them to always stand upright after being knocked down.

Therefore, the toys represent resilience, perseverance, and the ability to pick oneself up or to never give up as important values of Burmese culture.
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As mentioned, the name Pyit Taing Htaung only refers to the egg-shaped toys.

Other popular types of papier-mâché toys include:

-Se kweq or gold foil-covered owls that symbolize wisdom and good luck, similar to the meaning of owls in many cultures, often found in shop windows.

-Pu wa yok or dolls with outstretched arms. They are often painted pink, have black hair tied in pigtails and wear a longyi wrapped up like baby nappy or diaper.

-As well as dinosaurs, giraffes, oxen, tigers and elephants.
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Pyit Taing Htaung are made of papier-mâché, which you may remember making as a kid using strips of newspaper and watered-down glue.

In Myanmar, papier-mâché toys are made by layering thin, tough paper, sometimes recycled newspaper, with rice-based paste onto a clay or wooden mold (Fraser-Lu 2002). 

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The glued paper is then left to dry in the sun for a day and is cut from the mold once dry. The seams are delicately covered with more papier mâché.

Next, the object is whitewashed with a coat of paint using gouache or enamel, and then finally decorated with brightly colored paints.

In the case of the golden owls (se kweq), after the whitewash they are covered in orange foil, which is made in Taung-gyi in the Southern Shan States. 

Each toy takes about 3-5 days to make (Fraser-Lu 2002).
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Pyit Taing Htaung and other papier-mâché toys are at the center of small family-run businesses.

The area surrounding Abeya-zin pagoda in Sagaing, located just 12 miles southwest of Mandalay in Upper Burma, is a present day center for papier-mâché toy making.

Around ten families going back 4 generations continue to make the toys in the Abeya-zin precint (Fraser-Lu 2002).
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I interviewed my Burmese FLTA, Sayama Khin, about Pyit Taing Htaung. 

She said that Pyit Taing Htaung are mostly sold at pagodas, especially during pagoda festivals. They are typically sold at pagodas in the countryside or at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the capital of Myanmar.

Pagoda festivals are attended by families and the toys would be purchased for the kids. Stalls closer to the pagoda will sell goods meant to be given as offerings to the pagoda, in contrast to the toys which are for the enjoyment of the children.

When I asked Sayama Khin who she thought the doll represented, she said it looked like a baby's face, something cute. It is interesting to note the Russian doll-like appearance of the Pyit Taing Htaung, which you will see mentioned by scholars and journalists who discuss the toys.


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Pyit Taing Htaung are mostly associated with kids playing in the countryside, where they would toss them on the table at home for entertainment.

Sayama Khin used to see more papier-mâché toys when she was younger. Today, she sees larger papier-mâché toys in display cases at the homes of people who live in the city.

Further, children in Myanmar today tend to play with their phones, video games and plastic toys, which you could find anywhere in the world, as opposed to traditional papier-mâché toys.
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Pyit Taing Htaung are a microcosm of the globalization happening in Myanmar.

Their original use as toys for children is decreasing.
Instead, they are purchased by city people in order to display in their homes, or by foreigners who like the handmade, quirky look of the traditional toys.

Further, children in Myanmar purchase plastic toys imported from China, rather than handmade papier-mâché toys made by craftsmen in Myanmar because they are cheaper and thus more affordable (Surana 2017).


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Several popular businesses, with both physical storefronts in Myanmar and online websites, sell various papier-mâché toys made by local artisans in Myanmar in order to sell to a foreign audience.

The look of the websites is very modern and they often have profiles on each of the artisans, mentions like "fair trade" and quotes from artisans on how they have benefited by selling their goods through these foreigner-owned business.

Some examples of such stores include Hla Day (Yangon), Pomelo (Yangon and Bagan) and Yangoods (several locations between Yangon and Mandalay).
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https://youtu.be/Nl9cWHfpPsM

In this music video titled "Pyit Taing Htaung," a little girl falls off of her bike and hurts her leg. Her mother encourages her to keep going, thus embodying the meaning of the toy, and they play with the Pyit Taing Htaung.

Pyit Taing Htaung have also served as the logo for a measles vaccination campaign in Myanmar, as a symbol of strength, health and robustness, as well as the Yangon Region mascot in order to promote tourism, for which a contest was held in 2018 for its design in exchange for a cash prize.
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Papier-mâché toys from the Burma Art Collection at NIU
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“Pyit Tine Htaung - YouTube.” Accessed April 8, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nl9cWHfpPsM.

 “Auspicious Pyit Taing Htaung Toy Named Yangon Region’s Mascot.” The Irrawaddy, December 10, 2018. https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/auspicious-pyit-taing-htaung-toy-named-yangon-regions-mascot.html.

Fraser-Lu, Sylvia. Burmese Crafts: Past and Present. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford Univ. Press, 2002.

“Hla Day Myanmar.” Hla Day Myanmar. Accessed April 8, 2019. https://hladaymyanmar.org/.

Http://Www.Yangoods.Com/.” Accessed April 8, 2019. http://www.yangoods.com/.

 Lae Phyu Pya Myo Myint. “Artists Revive Myanmar’s Papier-Mâché Toy Tradition.” The Myanmar Times. Accessed April 8, 2019. https://www.mmtimes.com/lifestyle/24164-artists-revive-myanmar-s-papier-mache-toy-tradition.html.

“Myanmar Traditional Toys.” Accessed April 8, 2019. https://www.thahara.com/blog/myanmar-traditional-toys.

“Pomelo for Myanmar.” Pomelo for Myanmar. Accessed April 8, 2019. http://pomeloformyanmar.org/.

Surana, Sanjay. “The Future of Traditional Toys in Myanmar.” Silkwinds, April 12, 2017. https://silkwindsmagazine.com/future-traditional-toys-myanmar/.

 “UNICEF Myanmar - Media Centre - Myanmar Joins Global Measles-Control Effort.” Accessed April 8, 2019. https://www.unicef.org/myanmar/media_5767.html.

Zon Pann Pwint. “Paper Pets Seek Loving Home.” The Myanmar Times. Accessed April 8, 2019. https://www.mmtimes.com/lifestyle/15449-paper-pets-seek-loving-hom.html.
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