Myanmar: Subculture with Spirits

One of the best things about reading a book from every country on our planet is that I get to see the world from many different perspectives, while I learn so many new things. I was happy to find a book from Myanmar so easily on Amazon, that I did not even read the synopsis for the book. Smile as They Bow by Nu Nu Yi definitely gave me a different perspective and Iearned something new.

The book was banned by the government of Myanmar for more than twelve years. In some other countries, I think the book would still be banned. Peopleare preparing for a week-long festival, a festival thousands of people from all over the country attends. In the centre of the festival are nats, spirits that are a vital part of the country’s Buddhist traditions. This will probably not lead to a ban, but when a transvestite gay man in his fifties is the main character in the book, it makes all the difference, I think.

I had never heard of this tradition, apparently few westerners have. It would be interesting to witness the festival in person. Natkadaws are humans channeling spirits to help people finding their way. Natkadaws can be male or female, but apparently quite a few of them are men dressed up as females.

Interestingly enough this is one of the few books translated to the English written by a Burmese author. After all, Britain ruled the country for a while. As it is not easy to find books from Myanmar, and the book I read is about a subculture like this, it makes me yearn for more. I want to learn about the main cultural elements, how this festival is seen by the ones not taking part of it, and how overwhelmed I would feel as an outsider taking part in the festival.

As far as the book goes I felt like there was not really a plot, and that is something I dislike. It is hard to translate many languages into the English without so much being lost in translation, and I have a strong feeling this book is no exception. What made me a bit sad is that during this religious festival most people ask the spirits, or whoever they are trying to reach, for money, wealth, bigger this or that, instead of for example good health or healing the sick.

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