FAR to the north, in achin State, not far from the Indian border, villagers still follow the traditional ways. In Putao district, Rawang communities, part of the Kachin ethnic group, not only use the marijuana plant for medical purposes but also weave it into hempen cloth, local resident Ko Dee Tan, 33, told a Myanmar Times reporter who recently visited the region.
“We’ve been using hemp as herbal medicine since our grandparents’ time. They used to apply a heat pack of hemp to wherever they felt any sickness or pain. It takes seven days to walk from our village to Putao, so cloth is rare – so we used hemp to make clothes as well,” said Ko Dee Tan.
Some marijuana plants can be seen growing in Putao district in the compounds of villages. This is not for drug use, but as raw material for weaving cloth. The stem of the plant must be exposed to sunlight and then steeped in water for three days, which toughens the fibre and makes it possible to weave it.
Though this is not done on a commercial scale, Ko Dee Tan says hand-woven hempen cloth, in Rawang traditional costume design, can be found in the markets of Myitkyina and Putao.
“It’s not easy to find, because the supply is very limited. But a piece of cloth with a Rawang traditional design might go for K20,000, or K10,000 for a shawl,” he said.
Cotton has now become more plentiful in the region, making the use of hemp rarer still.
“Demand for hempen cloth is not strong, and not many people know it can be found,” said one merchant who stocks traditional cloth from Myitkyina.
Instead, villagers gave the cloth as a gift to visitors and to friends.
By Myo Myo
September 14-20, 2009
The Myanmar Times