One of the first things we did here in Myanamr was visit a local Thanaka grinding factory outside of Mawlamyine, a major port city on the country's southern peninsula. The factory is a family-owned business that has been in operation for over 70 years. Kyaw Myoe Naung, the grandson of the company's founder, happily showed us around the place.
Walking in, we were overwhelmed with a spicy-sweet fragrance and the sounds of rapidly churning cogs and belts. Everything eye level and below was coated in a thick layer of Thanaka residue, the air thick with airborne powder.
This factory specializes in packaging ready-made Thanaka powder for those who don’t have time every morning to grind it fresh from the log. It’s a fascinating process that we want to share with you. It goes as follows:
1. Cut down Thanaka logs and branches into 6-inch pieces
2. Feed 6-inch pieces into a machine that grinds logs between two rocks while simultaneously using water to dissolve the powder and sift out larger pieces
3. Pour the liquid Thanaka into large bags weighted down with heavy stones to press out excess water. Follow this by opening the bags to let the remaining water evaporate.
4. Once dried, mix in a sour-smelling mineral rock that helps preserve the powder for up to one year.
5. Add one of three limestone rock powders, extracted locally in Mon State, for different earthy colorings
6. Individually wrap 20g packages and put in boxes of 25 count
7. Ship both locally and internationally. The popularity of Thanaka is expanding outside Myanmar’s borders to places like Thailand, China, Singapore, and Indonesia
Thanaka is prized in Myanmar for both its natural sun protection and calming scent. Many Burmese people we have met so far say they have transitioned to packaged Thanaka because it is quick and easy to fit into their daily routine. As such, packaged Thanaka is a growing business now that commerce has opened and paid jobs with long hours are increasing. Like so many things in Myanmar, this ancient tradition is modernizing to match the demands of economic development.