Meet Ma Khin Myat Noe, our very first face of Myanmar. We met her Monday on Bilu Kyun, better known as “Ogre Island.” Despite the name, it’s not a scary place but instead home to roughly 200,000 Mon people – one of the oldest ethnic groups found in Myanmar. They came around 300 BCE bringing Buddhism to the country, which has since become the majority religion. Ma Khin and many others on the island say they use Thanaka to protect them from the sun, which is especially hot this time of year. Temperatures average about 100°F (38°C) degrees every day with no rain.
She lives in Mudun Village, one of 64 on the island. This one specifically focuses on the manufacturing of slate boards and pencils to distribute to schools throughout Myanmar. Many of the other villages we visited here also specialized in production ranging from colorful rubber bands and traditional clothing to farming and woodworking.
One thing in common between these trades is they all involve outside labor. Besides the aesthetic quality of Thanaka, there is also a very functional aspect to Thanaka use. In both cities and rural areas, people cover their faces, necks, arms, and even backs with thick layers of Thanaka paste. This produces a lasting cooling effect and natural sun protection. From taxi drivers to farmers, street cooks to fishermen - anyone working under the scorching sun in Myanmar is most likely to slather on Thanaka a few times every day.