Shin Pyu Novitiation Ceremony
Another impressive ceremony well worth seeing in Inle Lake is the Shin Pyu Ceremony. In Myanmar, all Buddhists send their sons, usually when they are in their early teens, to the monastery for a short period. The novitiation ceremony in Inle Lake is unique in that the procession of going to the monastery is by boats. Men and women, young boys and girls are all dressed up in their finery and there is also music and some dancing. Often the whole village will have a mass novitiate when a number of boys are all sent together to become novices.
If the son is the first-born there is a unique ceremony only to be found in Inle called Che-myin Sut Pwe.
For the young girls, there is an ear-boring ceremony when they will be dressed up as little princesses with jewels and an ornate headdress.
Agriculture and Fishing
The Intha people are simple rural folk whose main occupation is agriculture and fishing.
There is a unique method of planting flowers and vegetables on small man-made floating islands which can be seen only on Inle Lake and nowhere else in the world. These floating islands, near the villages, are extensively cultivated. They have gradually been built up practically by hand and now cover nearly one-third of the whole lake area. They are mostly found on the western side of the lake near the villages of Kay-lar, Mwe-pwe, In-chan, Myeni-gon, Kye-sa-gon, Pwe-sa-gon, Kyauk-gyi Myauk, and Nga-phe Chaung. The good thing about planting on these floating islands is that there is ample water underneath to nourish the vegetables and plants. It is a kind of natural hydroponics.
As the lake is shallow and full of aquatic weeds, floating piles of clogged-up weeds and mud are often formed naturally. These are sewn up by groups of Intha people working together using big saws, into long strips of about 200 feet by 12 feet and about ten men will then slowly shift these strips by poling them along with long sturdy bamboo poles. These natural islands are then further prepared for cultivation, by putting on more mud, earth, and manure, all laboriously by hand.
As the Inthas have used these floating islands for many years, some have become root-fast to the lake-bed by roots of trees and plants. Also, the lake is getting shallower, silting up year by year.
Tomatoes, big luscious varieties, are most extensively grown especially in the months from June to September. Also, other vegetables like gourd ( a kind of marrow ), potatoes, various varieties of beans and peas, onions, cucumber, sugar cane and flowers like chrysanthemums, asters and many others are commercially grown for distribution and marketing all over Myanmar. Parts of this lake are a veritable Garden of Eden, unspoiled, pure and full of plants and flowers.
Rice is also extensively cultivated especially near the villages on the western bank, but also on the eastern bank and near Nyaung Shwe. The method of wet rice cultivation is different from other parts of Myanmar where the fields have to be irrigated either with rainwater during the monsoon season or by dams and canals. In Inle it is the other way round in that the lake waters near the banks have first to be removed, using traditional water pedals or motors, the earth has to be dried first, then plowing using water buffaloes or cattle. Later, some of the water has to be brought back for the growing paddy. A single water buffalo is often used to pull the plow.
The harvesting is also unusual because the paddy ears are cut from boats and carried away by water to the villages. Some are stacked up on shelves of bamboo above the waters. The cultivators can be seen swimming around their fields, a most unusual sight.
There are about 11 varieties of rice grown in this area. Some are of the sticky, glutinous kind.
Some orchards of fruit trees, especially tangerine (oranges), are to be seen in the area, but obviously not in the lake itself. There are a few on the banks, mango groves, and some tropical fruits.
Fishing Inthas lake-dwellers, they all fish from an early age. In the old days, many were cultivators for the rice paddy growing which lasts for about six months, and for the other half of the year, their main livelihood was fishing. Nowadays, many are cultivators throughout the year. In the same way, many men are fishermen while the women are mainly weavers and cultivators.
There are about 42 varieties of fish out of which ten kinds are caught for food. There are also small freshwater prawns. The most popular fish for the table in Inle Lake is Nga Phein (Cryprinus Carpio Intha) a kind of carp found only in Inle Lake, Nga Yant (four varieties of Ophioce phallus) the gudgeon, Nga Khu catfish and Nga Phe (Notopterus notopterus).
Many types of fish traps and nets are used, sometimes some of the floating islands are towed to open lake areas to form temporary islands where the fisherman wait to catch their prey. They often build a small hut to stay in on these floating islands. The fish are baited with food thrown in every now and then and only after about two-and-a-half months nets are slowly closed in.
The distinctive net is a long deep conical one which is vertically pushed down with a foot into the weed-infested waters to trap the small fish.
The weaving of cotton and silk textiles has been the main occupation of the Intha people for hundreds of years. Nant Pan village, in the old days, was the center of silk weaving in Myanmar, but now there are also several other centers in Mandalay and Amarapura. The raw silk is produced within the country in Pyin Oo Lwin (Maymyo) and some other places, as well as imported from Thailand and China across the Shan State border by mule trains, even from much earlier times.
There are over 10,000 looms, many are local traditional looms, but now there are more motorized looms, which outnumber the traditional ones by ten to one. The woven textiles are sewn into monks robes, pahso (longyi) for men and htamein (nether garment) for women. Also, many types of Shan Bags are made and distributed all over Myanmar and across the border to Thailand.
The two most popular types of silk garments are Zinme (Chaing Mai) longyi for women and up to about twenty-five years ago, Bangkok longyi for men, though the latter type has now gone out of fashion and no longer woven. The Zinme silk longyis especially are colorful with delicate designs in multitudinous hues. Silk fabric experts from Chiang Mai say that the patterns of Zinme longyi are not from their area, though there is a possibility that they might be based on old Northern Thai patterns as they are very similar to present-day Laotian patterns.
In-paw Khon village is the center of the present-day weaving industry in Inle Lake and well worth to see both the traditional and modern looms, Haiya Ywa-ma is the center for the making of shoulder bags.
The weavers also make traditional pin-me, fawn and reddish-brown cotton cloth for making into men’s jackets and baggy Shan trousers.
The village craft of weaving is so popular and well-paid that in some villages like Nant Hin every house has one or two looms. Weaving is the work of women and young girls and elderly maidens spend long hours at the loom. Some wealthy persons have also set up weaving centers: cottage industries where the girls are fed and looked after by the owner. Because of the gentle nature of the Intha people, there is “industrial harmony” and no conflict between the owner and the workers.
Smithy and Making of Silverware
Each village will usually have a smithy where dahs (the local knives) of various kinds from big ones for hacking to small ones for cutting, axes, shovels, plows, mattocks, etc. are made and also repaired.
In Haiya Ywa-ma silverware is made, in the shape of beautiful bowls with intricate designs; small containers and boxes of various sizes and shapes, flower holders, lime holders for betel boxes and so on are made for local use, and to sell to visitors.
Naung Taw village specializes in the making of daggers. In some villages, betel nutcrackers are made. Each village seems to have its own specialty and designs.
Carpentry and Boat Building
The industrious Intha are also good carpenters and boat builders. They build houses and furniture, carts and plows and other items for village use. Their specialty is of course boat building. They build huge tow barges up to about 150 feet in length, also longboats for boat races which can take 100 men standing in two rows.
Mwe Pwe village is the place to visit to see the boat builders. The nearby villages of Kyei-sa Kon to Kon Kai village near Nant Pan all make boats. They are now building motorboats and special boats for tourists, with seats and an awning. The motors ae brought in from China and Thailand. These motorboats were first introduced in Inle Lake only after the Second World War.
Some of the big In-hle (the Inle boat) is dug out from huge teak trunks and used in the old days to carry merchandise to various places around the lake for trading.