Myanmar eyes Unesco listing for ancient beauty regime

Govt hopes to protect link between its people and paste made from bark of indigenous tree

Street vendor San San Oo, a long-time thanaka user, buys the fresh paste from the market and smears it on her cheeks with a brush.
Street vendor San San Oo, a long-time thanaka user, buys the fresh paste from the market and smears it on her cheeks with a brush.ST PHOTO: TAN HUI YEE
Tubs of thanaka paste made by Shwe Pyi Nann, a firm which controls the majority of Myanmar's thanaka market, sold at a Yangon market. Market vendor Hla Hla Kyi sells thanaka stumps at Yangon's Pazundaung market. Traditionally, thanaka is prepared by
Tubs of thanaka paste made by Shwe Pyi Nann, a firm which controls the majority of Myanmar's thanaka market, sold at a Yangon market. ST PHOTO: TAN HUI YEE

Business is brisk at Mr Aye Saung's souvenir shop in downtown Yangon's Bogyoke Aung San market, where candy-coloured tubs of thanaka paste - made from the bark of an indigenous tree - compete for the attention of passing tourists.

Asked to name his best-selling brand, he picks out one with a minimalist white packaging bearing the etching of a tree.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 12, 2020, with the headline 'Myanmar eyes Unesco listing for ancient beauty regime'. Subscribe