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A Burmese Folk Tale

sunny 36 °C

Once upon a time in a faraway place, the women of the remote jungles of southern Asia decided that their menfolk would find them even more irresistible if they could make their necks as long as giraffes’. They pulled this way and that, as hard as they could, but nothing worked – they had short stubby necks. Then, one day, while they were frantically tugging at a young girl’s head they dislocated her vertebrae. Now they could stretch her neck as long as they wanted, but with a broken spine the poor girl couldn’t hold up her head. So the villagers braced her neck with golden rings…
The menfolk were in such awe of the long-necked beauty that the other women wanted to stretch their daughter’s necks as well. And soon it became a dangerous and disfiguring custom that is practiced to this day...
Now, while the giraffe necked women were stretching their necks to catch their men, the men of Inle Lake were trying to catch fish to impress their women. The most successful fishermen caught the most beautiful women and some soon discovered that it was best to use both hands to pull in their nets – which meant they had to row with their legs...
Now all this happened thousands of years ago, but when time stopped still at Inle Lake the people just carried on fishing as they had always done. Some used gill nets…
Others used hook and line and some threw their nets, while many used baskets to trap the fish which they could spear using multi-barbed harpoons...

Even the women learned to row with their legs...
But perhaps the most unusual fishing practice at Inle was to fish the farmer’s fields…
Yes – you read that right (and a catchy title for a book it could be: “Field Fishing in Myanmar”).
But how to fish in a field?
Most of Lake Inle is only a couple of metres deep and the surrounding arid hills are unsuitable for crops needing constant irrigation. So, instead of trying to take the water to the fields, the farmers decided to bring the fields to the water…
The shallow warm lake, naturally fertilized by the people and animals that live in and on it, is a veritable incubator for weeds, and many, like the water hyacinth, have floatation bladders to keep them on the surface. By gathering together huge rafts of floating weeds and anchoring them to the lake bed with long bamboo poles the farmers of Inle create floating fields which can be dressed with mud dredged from the intervening channels. Crops like tomatoes, cucumbers and beans are planted on the floating mud banks and thrive in the waterborne environment…

Floating fields cover thousands of acres of Inle lake and all of the fieldwork and harvesting has to be done by canoe, but at least no weeding is necessary between the rows. Here's a farmer's wife taking the crop from the 'field'...

But all work in this watery world is done by boat...
...even housebuilding...
Now, before we move on to Mandalay, some answers to reader’s questions…
Dotted around Inle Lake are resort hotels built on stilts, just like the natives’ houses. But, unlike the locals’ hovels, our thatched cottage was beautifully furnished with all mod cons including a large flat screen TV, (showing BBC and many international channels), a full bathroom with constant hot water, air conditioning and a mini bar. Our cottage is the one on the extreme left…
The resort had an excellent restaurant, and throughout our visit we had a private long boat to ferry us around the lake.
Two worlds exist side by side in today’s Burma. It is one of the most undeveloped and poorest nations on earth and average wages are about two dollars a day. We spend much more than that each day. We fly from place to place in modern European aircraft, (even if the airports are somewhat rudimentary); we are chauffeured around in air-conditioned cars; (and have ridden in ox-carts); we stay in stylish hotels and eat in excellent restaurants – and we hope that the money we spend ends up helping the lovely people who have made our visit so enjoyable.

Posted by Hawkson 19:01 Archived in Myanmar

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Ah, that's more like it. I was afraid you might be suffering being so far from "civilization."
Fascinating framing technique. I couldn't see the fastenings. Lashed? Couldn't see a hammer anywhere. In fact, I couldn't see tools of any sort. Looks like one good blow and it would all fall down.

by R and B

Thank you J&S for such a lovely story and beautiful pictures. Considering my current state of back pain I should move there so they could stretch my lumbar spine...

by gottfried

Fascinating.....I would never have known about this unsung part of the world had it not been for you two..I'm very grateful..

by Sharron

Fishing and gardening at the same time!!! I know some gardeners who would love this, no more watering to do. As usual fascinating with so many contrasts.

by Sue Fitzwilson

Such an interesting posting with beautiful pictures to enhance the experience. The blogs gets better and better. Well done.
Love Jean and David

by Jean and David

Breaking your neck for beauty - and all we do is slather ourselves with toxic chemicals to achieve that?

I recently heard in a video that our natures change according to the society we live in, even if we were raised in another. I always believed this but never read or heard this from another source. So if I were living in Inle I'd probably feel pressure to elongate my neck or learn how to row with my leg.

by Janet

What a wonderful set of photos. Almost no trace of modern industrial material. The neck stretching technology is impressive though.

Loved the photos of Bagan last post. High on my bucket list.


by Tom Whalley

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