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Pole for balance

Sacred Pole: Believed to bring peace on earth. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Have you heard the story about the earth supported by a pole that God dug into it?

The Kayan people believe that earth lacked density when their God, Phu Kaukathin created the world. The Kayans are a sub-group of Red Karen, a Tibeto-Burman ethnic minority of Myanmar. So a pole was dug into it to support it. Because of this, the earth hardened into seven inner and outer layers making life possible!

They believe that the first pole erected was at Demawso (a township in Kayah and Pekhon in the Shan State, Myanmar), so they settled there. During spring, they celebrate a three-day festival, called Kay Htoe Boe (pole) to commemorate the sacred pole.

The first tree

The Shaman (a person who is considered to having access to and influence in the world of spirits, and who enters into a trance during the ritual. He is also considered to be a healer) prophecies using the bones of the chicken that had been sacrificed. He then leads the people of the village to the forest and points out the tree that is to be cut for the Kay Htoe Boe.

An evergreen tree, Eugenia, which belongs to the myrtle family, is chosen. This is because the Kayans believe that this was the first tree that was created. They believe that it is the Kay Htoe Boe that makes the seasons equal and brings about peace on earth.

The pole is considered a living thing. It is said to have four levels. The first is the star, the second is the sun, the third the moon and the fourth is the ladder. The ladder is made with a long white cotton cloth.

The Kayans believe the entire universe is inter-linked by a web that starts from the star. The only self-illuminating star, the Sun symbolises energy and power, while the moon signifies the help it offers humans in deciphering time. The sanctuary represents the holy abode of God.

The pole is also decorated with beehives woven from bamboo threads to attract the spirits. The ladder made with cloth and wooden reeds almost reaching the ground connote the need of man’s ascension to heights of high morale. The spider’s web reminds them of the difficulties of life.

Next to the pole is a house of God, the kantan where offerings are placed. Sharing food and maintaining uniformity in traditional attire is also observed.

Customary rites of sacrifice and prayers accompany every ritual accompanied by dancing and singing to the sound of gongs and flutes. The women do not dance; instead they use the Eugenia leaves to sprinkle water on the men, who are doing the pwai dance.

The Kay Htoe Boe is considered to be sacred and not to be touched by human beings once it is mounted.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2021 6:50:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/kids/kayan-people-of-myanmar-and-the-spring-festival-of-the-sacred-pole/article8222835.ece

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