Burmese Tattoo Manual  

Posted by ေရွးျမန္မာ in

Object types - Tattooing manual / manuscript

Materials- Paper
Techniques - Drawn
Production place - Made in Burma
Date - 19thC

One (of five) pages of a tattoo manuscript. The manuscript is a digest of tattoo designs for a potential client to choose from, and would have been used by the tattooer to advertise his range of work.

In the top half, this page has two frontally faced tigers, in drawn in black ink and coloured in red and yellow, respectively. Their torsoes are divided into grids of auspicious symbols. Around them are lines of text. In the lower half are a series of smaller prancing tigers, also with auspicious symbols marked around them. The botttom quadrant of the page is delineated in red ink and shows two more cursory animal figures and some text.

These five acquisitions (2005.6-23.01-05) constitute pages from the same illustrated manuscript, obtained from three different sources. The leaves, though now separated, were presumably ordered originally as a "parabaik". The pages have all now been glazed and taped at the edges.

The basic format is of rows of animals (mostly tigers but chicks and monkeys are also seen) along with text (in black ink though red is seen in two cases). In some instances the text is embedded in, or around, the animal. In one instance, the outline of the animal's body is made up only of auspicious letters and numbers. The tigers prowl across the page in rows, for the most part coloured in yellow and orange - or in a combination of the two. In one section of the manuscript the body of the tiger is dissected into individual circles filled with auspicious numbers -one circle for each of the four legs, one for the head and one for the tail. Magic squares are evident throughout, and at one point (.05) there are two rows of animals standing above concentric circles, presumably the planets (the peacock [sun] and rabbit [moon] are clear).

Inscription Type: inscription
Inscription Script: Burmese
Inscription Language: Burmese
Inscription Comment: page/s of illustrated manuscript
Current Location - British Museum, London

Length: 43 centimetres (glazed)
Width: 29 centimetres (glazed)

Each page is very worm-eaten, though for the most part not destructive of the overall design and legibility of the manuscript.

Curator's comments
Tattooing is a ritual component prevalent throughout South East Asia, including Burma and Cambodia. For a full discussion of the art of ritual tattooing in Cambodia see, Bernon, "Yantra et Mantra", Phnom-Penh, 1998. Olivier de Bernon's well-designed book on the subject reveals how many similarities there are between the arts in Cambodia and Burma and how both systems of magic stem ultimately from India via Thailand.

In her magesterial survey of Burmese culture, "Burmese Crafts, Past and Present", Sylvia Fraser-Lu writes, " Virtually every young man, from a prince of the realm to a village farm boy, delighted in being adorned from the waist to the knee with artistic blueish-black effigies of powerful agile creatures, such as cats, tigers, monkeys and ogres surrounded by a flowering tracery of protective letters from the Burmese alaphabet...The primary function of tattooing was talismanic. It added to male charismsa by offering the bearer a number of advantages, such as invulnerability against all sorts of weaponry, protection against evil spirits and disease, and success in love affairs." (p.138)

Tattooing and the concomitant construction of auspicious space are important aspects of traditional Burmese scoiety and many objects already in the collection illustrate this feature. Tattooing equipment and tattoo diagrams on cloth have been aquired in recent years as also have other objects from elsewhere in Southeast Asia which are convered in similar indications of auspiciousness. The use of magic squares helpfully links these pages to Cambodian notions of what is protective.

Burmese paintings of various types are represented in the collection, but until now nothing of this very striking type has been acquired. These pages make very useful and complementary additions to the collections as well as our abilities to speak about Burmese culture.

This entry was posted on Oct 5, 2010 at Tuesday, October 05, 2010 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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