Hopong and Intangible Culture

Buddhist nuns line up as they receive donation from the local people in Hopong.  HOTO: Khun Arkar Tun (Kyauk Ta Lone)
Buddhist nuns line up as they receive donation from the local people in Hopong.  HOTO: Khun Arkar Tun (Kyauk Ta Lone)

By Maung Tha (Archaeology )

All people in all countries of the world have had evidences of tangible and intangible Cultural Heritage traditionally through past generations. That is why UNESCO has put every year items of tangible and intangible Cultural Heritage in the Lists of World Heritage, the Memory of the World and Intangible Cultural Heritage in accordance with criteria set by the Members of UNESCO.
Future generations have continued to maintain cultural heritage of an ethnic group in a group so that other nationals could put a value on it. The tourism industry has flourished as the foreign tourists tend to study tangible and intangible Cultural Heritage of a country.
The scope of intangible Cultural Heritage Tangible assets of Cultural Heritage are vividly seen to exist and evidences of intangible Cultural Heritage are difficult to understand or measure. People have usually maintained a piece of broken pot, big buildings and City Walls as tangible Cultural Heritage as well as maintaining intangible Cultural Heritage such as staff morale and goodwill for future generations.
The UNESCO has measured tangible assets in accordance with OUV criteria and stone inscriptions, hand-written manuscripts, invaluable books and newspapers, photographs and paintings are being recorded as the Memory of the World. UNESCO has put one Myanmar tangible item on the lists of World Heritage and four items on the Memory of the World.
Arrangements are being made for Myanmar intangible Cultural Heritage to be able to put on the lists of World Intangible Cultural Heritage.
World intangible Cultural Heritage has five fields:
1. Oral traditions and Expressions including Language
2. Performing Arts
3. Social Practices, Rituals and Festive Events
4. Knowledge and Practices concerning the Nature and Universe and
5. Traditional Craftsmanship
Oral traditions and languages include fables, riddles, proverbs, legends and languages. Performing Arts has songs, dances, folktales, folk dance, music and traditional plays. Social practices and Rituals include social custom, Traditions and Festivals, Weddings and act of Burying dead bodies, pagoda festival and sports. Knowledge of Nature and Universe has Astrology, worshipping, tattooing, traditional dishes and medicinal formulae. Traditional looms, weaving on backstrap looms, the ten traditional arts and crafts, musical instruments, all traditional paraphernalia, pottery and traditional handicrafts are included.

Myanmar and Intangible Culture
The UNESCO established its Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2008 and 429 items have been acknowledged on the Lists up to 2017 including 25 from the Southeast Asian countries. The upgrading in Myanmar of Intangible Cultural Heritage has been carried out by Organizing Committees at the National, Regional and State levels; the Chairman of the National Committee is the Union Minister for the Religion Affairs and Culture. The respective Committees concerned collected as many as 1800 items of Intangible Cultural Heritage: 78 items of Oral traditions; 461 items for Performing Arts; 561 festivals for Social Practices and Rituals; 104 for Knowledge for the Nature and Universe; 596 items for Traditional Craftsmanship including 393 items from the Shan State.
Hopong and Intangible Culture
Hopong Township is situated in the Southern Taunggyi Distract, Shan State which has a lot of items for Intangible Culture. Taunggyi District consists of Taungyi, Pindaya, Pinlaung, Pekhon, Yatsout, Ywaghan, Nyaungshwe and Hopong towns. Hopong Town was once ruled by Shan Sawbwas who relinquished their powers. Then the Revolutionary Council Government designated Hopong as a township on 1 July,1972.
Presently, Hopong is the capital of Pa.O Self-Administered Zone which is composed of Hsihseng and Pinlong townships. Hopong is situated at the lowest point between an East mountain range of Inle Lake a Lwepat range in the east of Nipon Stream.
Hopong Town for Mywedaw Pagoda, Htansan Cave and Hopong Fountain. The location of Hopong is suitable for water resources of Nataphat Stream for paddy cultivation. A valley in Shan language is known as pong and an upper part of the ravine is” Ho” thus the name” Hopong”. As the area of Hopong township is 1220.56 square miles and is situated 12 miles away from Taungyi Town and east of Hsihseng Towns, west of Loyilem and Laikha Town, north of Minkin town and north of Hsihseng town. The area of Hopong is 2.48 square miles by itself.
Situated 3541 feet above sea level, Hopong Town has a population of Pa-O, Shan, Kachin, Kayal, Kayan, Chin, Bamar, Rakhine, Intha, Danu, Lishaw, and Palaung with a large majority of Pa-O and Shan ethnic people. According to the statistics compiled up to September, 2017, Hopong has a population of 103241: 70776 Pa.Os and 23394 Shans; among the population, 103075 are the Buddhists.
Intangible Culture of an area is closely related with the religion.
The Buddhists have successively lived in Hopong, letting Intangible Culture flourish with an inclusion of traditional festivals of lily chandeliers. With 6 wards, 22 village tracts and 292 villages, Hopong has as many as 101 pagodas with Thirimingalar Hmwedaw Pagoda standing as the most significant one among them.
Traditional Festivals of Lily Chandeliers As it is well-known festival, people worship Buddha with lights. Every ward in Hopong is filled with multi-colored lights, thus getting the name of the lights. Lighted candles festooned atop bamboo sticks are somewhat like lilies, damsels go around the wards of the town. In Shan State, Kalaw, Aungban and Hopong towns in turn celebrate yearly the festivals of lily chandeliers.
Hopong’s lily chandelier festival celebrate two times every two years; it is usually held a week for five days after Taunggyi Hotair Balloon Festival together with Hopong’s Hmwedaw Buddha Pujaniya Festival. PaO ethnic nationals celebrate a lily chandelier festival on the fullmoon of Tabaung which is also their national day.
Hopong’s Hwedaw Pagoda popularly known as Thirimingala Shwechantha Pagoda in which Buddha’s relics were believed to be enshrined by Bagan King Alaungsithu. The height of original Pagoda is 12 taungs (one taung is roughly 36 inches) and during the reign of King Badon(1782-1819) in Konbaung Era, the original Pagoda was enclosed up to the height of 80 taungs by Hopong Mayor Kyunkyar.
The compound of the Pagoda with 200 taungs within was covered with great walls. The Pagoda was named in 1923 as Thirishwemingala Chantha Pagoda by monks and laypersons to bring good omens for the benefits of the region. Pagoda festivals are yearly held on 6th waning of Tazaungmon and 6th waning of Tabaung.
During the nights, Pa.O and Danu nationals wear traditional costumes and go around the wards of Hopong town by holding a series of lights.
Pa.O women wearing black clothes, Shan, Danu and Intha ethnic women wearing traditional costumes, walk around with bamboo sticks festooned atop with multi-colored lights. At that time, young men wearing their national dresses, played music and danced along the procession.

Outstanding character of the Festival
Every young man in Hopong is in the habit of participating by offering lights to the Buddha during the cold evening of Tazaungmon. A young man during the lighting procession tries to drag the hands of a girl he is in love by revealing his love to her; that is one of the peculiar characteristics in Hopong. If a girl gently accepts his offer, thereby visiting her house and getting a chance of falling in love with her. If a girl strikes back, there is no chance of making friends with her, a local explained. Every Myanmar ethnic national has the kinds of traditional lovely habits.
The people of Hopong town end their traditional tours of Lily chandeliers in the compound of Thirimingala Shwechantha Pagoda where they worship and stay up for some time singing and dancing and then they go home; they have maintained that tradition for a long time. The traditional tours of multi-colored lily chandeliers which were candlelit atop bamboo sticks are now replaced with dry cell batteries.
The tour of multi-colored candle lights is an outstanding symbol for Hopong, however. It definitely attracts local and foreign tourists so that it will last as intangible culture for a long time.
Translated by Arakan Sein; Ref: Myanma Alinn, March 29 issue.

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