Get Your Act Together with a Burmese Nat-Pwe
This man in woman’s clothes is a ghost’s spouse, a Nagadaw, carefully rouged and about to get drunk, surrounded by his (or her if you wish) aides. They are equally stunning looking young men dressed as women, dancing in circles around their master. Many spectators come to attend this Nat-Pwe: a ceremony intended to enhance the goodwill of the ghosts. Some bottles of Johnny Walker are shared among the audience (the calling of the ghosts requires certain measures to support the belief in them). The orchestra performs music that requires several sips from the whisky bottle in order to endure it.
Today, a rich businessman from Mandalay – a gold trader – called on the Nagadaw. In return for a large amount of money he will try his (her) best to persuade the famous nat Ko Kyi Kyaw (in Myanmar’s spiritual world he is responsible for business and gambling) to bless the gold trader’s business with even more success in the future. If one’s business is doing well in Myanmar, people believe it is because of Ko Kyi Kyaw’s mercy. If business runs bad, one should quickly go to the Nagadaw to start a Nat-Pwe in order to win Ko Kyi Kyaw’s support.
Hence, the ghost’s spouse starts his dance dressed as Ko Kyi Kyaw. During the ceremony – which can last a full day – he (she) changes his clothes several times, depending on which nat the audience wishes to call. Today, Ko Kyi Kyaw is followed by Ko Myo Shin, the “Lord of the nine towns”, who is said to be the patron of all Shan people and travelers. All nat were human beings in their previous lives, but all share the same experience: they died a cruel death and then became a nat. Before Ko Kyi Kyaw became a nat, he spent his days being drunk, watching cockfights and, of course, gambling. He died being struck by a falling tree and has been a nat since then.
While the Nagadaw performs his dance as Ko Kyi Kyaw, the audience gets drunk, and every now and then someone steps into the center and hands some money over the ghost’s spouse. In the evenings, after many bottles, the aides will put all the cash that has been collected in large baskets, and at least for one participant this was a successful day – businesswise.
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