Kae Htoe Boe Traditional Festival (or) Sacred Totem Pole Festival
Kae Htoe Boe festival is among the most distinctive festivals in Kayah State, The Kae-Htoe-Boe festival, or Kayah-takhundine-Pwe-daw in Myanmar term is held in April every year. Kae-Htoe-Boe festival is also called Trar-Ei-Loo. Yin Baw calls the festival Gan-Khumt. Though the terms are different, all the Kayah people celebrate the Kae-Htoe-Boe festival in the same way together.
When you travel in Kayah State, you will see the scenes of the traditional totem poles close to the Kayah villages. These poles are depicting vividly as the major feature of the Kayah State.
The estimated population in Kayah State is over two hundred fifty-thousand. Kayah State is a combination of three “Sawbwa” (Chieftain) districts, namely Kye-Phoe-Gyi district, Kandarrawaddy district, and Bawlakhe district.
Myanmar is composed of seven states and seven regions. Kayah State (formerly known as Karenni) is one of the States of Myanmar. The British government recognized its independence in a treaty with Myanmar King Mindon Min on the 21st of June 1875.
The Kayah ethnic people living in this state was called Karenni. It was renamed Kayah State in 1951 after the whole of Myanmar regaining the independence from the British in 1948. There are 135 national races in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. They have been living together since the time immemorial.
In connection with the myths of the dancing couple and the seven “Dway-Meh- Naw” in the Seven Steps Lake, Kayah State is metaphorically called KaNyar-Maw-Kay in Kayah term and Dway-Meh-Naw or Ngwe-Taung-Pyi in Myanmar terms. Kayah State is known as Kandaryawaddy.
Kayah State is rich in natural resources and mineral resources, particularly marble (N.B. its quality is as fine as the famous Italian marble), water resources, teak, flora, and fauna. Significantly, the Law-Pe-Ta hydropower station produces electricity and supplies to the other states and regions in Myanmar.
Kayah people have their indigenous dialect, language, traditions, customs, costumes, and culture. They depend on Agro-based farming livelihoods. Animal husbandry is their customary livelihood. Their way of life and livelihood are so simple and conservative.
They are traditional believers in animism, but most of them are Christians. They preserve their cultural values and traditions so their festivals are associated with culture, traditions, and beliefs. The identity of kayah is cherished by all national brethren.
The native ethnic groups living in Kayah State are Kayah, Kayaw, Gaebar, YinTele, Kaw-yaw is known as (Manu-ma-naw), and Kayan (Padaung). The term Kayan (Padaung) tribe is collectively called for the inclusiveness of the small tribes; Lah-thar, Kare-doth, Kagaung, and Ka-nan (Yinbaw).
Other ethnic groups living in Kayah State are Bamar, Intha, Pa-oh, and Shan. The tribal people of Kayah State wear distinct and beautiful traditional dresses.
The kayah living in the villages have to find the tall and straight tree (traditionally teak or eugenia or Dipterocarps tuberculate) in the forest. Before choosing the tree, villagers have to examine or check the tree whether it is straight and free from any flaws. Besides, it cannot be infested by birds or bugs. The tree must not have vines or nests of birds such as vultures or eagles at the top either.
They believe that the tree is Unclean if the birds’ nests are found in it as they are carnivorous. From the tree to a sacred totem pole, it must be clean and free from dirty things. On the very day, they fell the tree, they abstain from eating fermented soya beans, snakehead fish, and forest animals like sambar deer meat. However, they can eat chicken or pork, or fish is in their neighborhood. When they find a suitable tree, they bring it to the designated grounds for transforming into the Kae Htoe Boe or totem pole. Then they offer lighted candles, lighted incense sticks, a bunch of bananas, and a bunch of sugarcane to the spirits in line with their traditional belief in animism.
Next, they prepare and decorate the log. Finally, they erect it on the designated ground at the venue. The fields or grounds for erecting totem pole must be chosen in the eastern part of a certain village. As the sun rises in the east and they regard the rising Sun as a good sign, so they usually chose the site in the east to erect the traditional totem pole. They consider the eastern part of the certain village an auspicious site for celebrating Kay Htoe Boe festival or sacred totem pole festival.
Kae Htoe Boe is a Kayah term. The word ‘kae’ means a state, ‘htoe’ means flourishing and accomplished, and ‘boe’ means a sacred pole. The festival is celebrated with an ethnic dance competition, a costume contest, and other entertainment programs. When the Kae Htoe Boe pole is erected, participants dance around the pole. This festival is celebrated by all Kayah people of Christianity, Buddhism, and Animism.
The festival is held by all tribes in Kayah State together, showing that they all maintain and preserve the traditional festival and solidarity of the entire Kayah ethnic tribes. The Kae Htoe Boe festival portrays the traditional beliefs, unity, culture, identity, and ethnicity. The essence or purpose of celebrating or holding this festival is to obtain blessings from the spirits that they traditionally believe in.
They ask blessings for their well-being, wealth, peace, and prosperity in life. Kae-Htoe-Boe, the sacred pole shows the five precepts:
To be born innocent
To behave righteously
To work honestly
To eat justly
To live peacefully in harmony with all living beings.
Kae-Htoe-Boe festival is also accompanied by a reading of the chicken bones to predict the year. This fowl bone reading is done before holding any traditional ceremony or festivals in the Kayah community.
The Kayah people used to predict their life, augury, weather condition, all the needs and wants by reading at the holes of the chicken thigh bones. They use male chicken for this reading. They take out the thigh bones of the male chicken and look at the holes in the thigh bones. The male chicken has two or three holes. Every chicken has holes in thigh bones.
According to their traditional belief, if the holes in the right thigh bone are found to be higher than the ones on the left, it is good for the coming year of the village and villagers’ health, harvest, weather. It is a good omen.
If the holes in the right thigh bone are found to be lower than the ones on the left, it is bad for the coming year of the village and villagers’ health, harvest, weather. It is a bad omen. It is learned that this reading at the holes of the chicken thigh bones is done just before holding any occasions in the Kayah community.
This festival is held to venerate the eternal god and creator messengers, to give thanks for blessings during the year, to appeal for forgiveness, and pray for a good harvest, good rain, plentiful crops, the health of mind and body, prosperity and protection of natural disasters and pandemic or epidemic.
Besides, the Kae Htoe Boe festival commemorates the belief that the creator god gave form and life to the world by planting a small post in the ground.