Manaung Island’ traditions gradually become almost extinct

  • By Htut Khaung

Manaung Island is separately situated in the Bay of Bengal with a peculiar custom. Ancient people who would become Manaung Islanders had probably crossed from the nearest Yanbye town and the Rakhine coastal regions. In addition, a few Pyu, Mon and Bamar people had settled down on the island. Nowadays, Manaung people have descended from the ancient people of mixed blood.

Traditional wooden boats used for transportation of goods in Manaung Island, Rakhine State.

Ancient people from different areas
They had come ashore with their respective traditions to accept the Island cultural traditions readily. The outstanding example to worship without importing any reverence nor copying . They have their own styles even in worshipping Nats. What people from Manaung have created are not evil spirits; they worship their nats for their generosity.
The people from the Island put much value on the Lord Buddha’s admonition” Rely on yourself.” Manaung Island is known as absconding island or man-hiding island; that saying may be true. In ancient times of difficult transportation, those who had committed theft, robbery, murder and jail breaking sought shelters on this island. At the same time, those who fought against stupid rulers had to give in and absconded with own properties and those who were financially ruined in their old places became adventurers who wanted to lead a new life in a new land. And they crossed the wavy Manaung Sea at the risk of their own lives in whichever way they arrived, they tended to have a strong personality, be it a lawless person, king’s counselor and a farmer; they left behind old traditions to lead a new life with a new culture.
That is why the ancient Manaung Islanders didn’t bring cultural traditions from their old places to the Island; upon arrival on the island, they tried to acclimatize cultural traditions to life on the island. That is why the ancient Islanders controlled the administrative, judicial, passing laws and social affairs under the supervision of the Buddhist monks. As it is simply assumed as the village disciplines, but for the Islanders, it overwhelms all social lives. It controls all social affairs from birth to death. Noises frightening are not allowed at birth. The bridegroom must present a suitable jewelry to a bride depending on the living standard of the bride.

Death outside of a village
If a person dies outside of a village, his corpse is not allowed to bring into the village. The corpse must be put in a wayside public rest house near the grave and should be buried by carrying from the resthouse. However ,Manaung people don’t take it granted. In accordance with the changing times, they act accordingly. It shows symbols of higher standard of living in consideration.

Most basic limits
There are the most basic limits set for bachelors and young unmarried young girls in their social societies. A bachelor head rules a group of bachelors and a chaperon controls a group of young girls. Bachelor head and a chaperon who become a confirmed bachelor and a spinster get closely associated with young men and at the same time , they happen to be middle-age men who lead the youth and serve the benefits of the villages at the expense of young men. If a young man has come of age, he to unavoidably join the group of bachelors and spinsters.
Generally, a young man of 15, he or she has already been included in the group. If there are occasions of joy and grief in a village, the middle-age men, bachelors , chaperons and youth acted under the supervision of the ward/ village elders. For instance, if a village is going to make a generous donation to charity, the elders invite monks respectively to have alms food and quids of betel and do other sundry matters.

Construction of Pandals
Married men of middle age are responsible for constructing pandals, cooking and accommodation for town or village elders. Bachelors and young unmarried girls headed by their heads decorate pandals, furniture used in these pandals; hiring of household utensils and dancing happily at the donation and serving for the guests have been implemented by them. This leads parents to test that the youth live and work collectively; they meet their parents, brothers and sisters in order to glance at their traditions. Realms of bachelors and young unmarried girls get involved in social affairs such as roofing, reaping and planting paddy in addition to donations and social occasions of joy and grief.
In ancient times, a rich economy on cultivation of paddy and tobacco leaf, breeding of draught cattle led to the competitive construction of large houses with shed-roofed annexes. As houses are required to change thatch-roofing once in a period of three years. If there are 40-50 households in a village, about 4 or 5 houses need to change thatch-roofing. If house has to change thatch-roofing, about 20 bachelors have to climb on the roof of a house. About 4 or 5 middle age men below the house will pass thatches, bamboo and bamboo pattern wickerwork to keep the thatches in place. Young unmarried girls have to get engaged in cooking for these people. A change of thatch-roofing is somewhat like a donation. Young men gather happily to have a feast showing goodwill and solidarity.

Cultivation in turn
In cultivating season, young unmarried girls help in turn in planting a rice paddy. During winter time of reaping, bachelors contribute labor on a reciprocal basis. In every area, there are several kinds of relationship between bachelors and young unmarried women. In Manaung Island , too, there are kinds of strange civilized relationship among them. Bachelors from Manaung Island tour in turn from a village to a village at their leisure time. During their tour, at the request of young unmarried men and as well as showing friendliness to the guests by the local villagers, the young men are allowed to have a chance of talking to local unmarried girls. When the local unmarried girls are presented to the guests, the bachelors present the matter to their head. Their head must seek permission from the girl’s parents through a chaperon. With the consent of her parents, the young man has a chance to talk to her. During the talk, a girl sits behind the side screen and the young man will have to sit in the faintly-lighted annex. A chaperon or a girl’s relative will wait in a shady annex.

According to a prohibition, whether a young unmarried girl would like a young guest or not, she will have to give a chance to talk to her once at least. In this way, a realm of young unmarried girls show respect to that of bachelors while social societies show their solidarity of their village. Young unmarried boys and girls from Manaung Island have a chance to talk to one another until the4ir married life. They are not jealous in love affairs.

Talking to a girl about love
If an unmarried guest asks for talking, local young man doesn’t hesitate to provide his lover to the guest. As for the girl, she is unable to refuse for the first time. She could refuse a chance of talking if it is for the second time. In this way, young unmarried boys and girls of the Island could choose a marriage partner by observation.
There is sometimes belle in a village. However beautiful she is , she has to abide by the rules and regulations of realms of young unmarried boys and girls. If not, she will be expelled from a realm of young unmarried girls , abandoning her in occasions of joy and grief. In social societies of the Island, wealth and government power do not overrule the prohibitions of the Island.

The roles of the elders
Manaung elders have managed all affairs of the Island, in addition to the realms of young unmarried boys and girls for thousands of years. But these traditions have been facing gradual disappearance upon onset of 21st Century. As the Island depends on agriculture, animal husbandry and fishing, young men do not stand on their own feet and they have to leave their beloved Island due to astonishingly advanced technology. As the islanders love their tradtions, they try to maintain them as much as they can. They have to give up their prohibitions to the ones they have faced.

Loss of young people
Due to lack of young people, there is no contributing system on a reciprocal basis in the field of planting and reaping paddy and thatch-roofing , thus turning into the payment system. There are no longer occasions of joy and grief. In some ways, village human societies are somewhat like those of urban areas. During the era of hand phones, touring from a village to a village, writing love letters in ballpens and sending them to the loved ones is somewhat ridiculous.
During fast-changing 21st Century, the Cultural traditions which lasted for thousands of years might disappear completely in coming few years. In the world, the old ones should be replaced with the new ones. In this way, old traditions of every society could disappear in order to be replaced by the new ones. Anyway, social lives of the Island in accordance with traditional prohibitions must be recorded in history as the precious cultural heritage.

Ref: Affairs on Nationalities
Translated by Arakan Sein

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