Lotus Weaving in Inlay: Tradition, Challenges, and Economic Impact

Categories: Lake

Inlay, second largest lake in Myanmar, is located at the Shan Plateau, 900 meters above sea level. The lake is 22km long and 10km across, and inhabited by many different ethnic nationals of the area. The Intha, Lake dwellers, are unique for their leg rowing. Leg rowed traditional boats are the main ceremonial attractions of the Inlay Lake. The area of the lake is originally 190/100 square feet but currently it was only 60 square feet in the rainy season and 40/24 square feet in summer.

However, the lake area could be differed according to seasonal that exact area could not be described. The depth fluctuates from 12 feet (rainy season) to 6 feet (summer) in average but the shallowest area is only 2 to 3 feet depth. Inlay is in Nyaung Shwe Township which is combination of three types of landforms: hilly region, valley region and Inlay lake. Nyaung Shwe is founded on Burmese Era, Kaw Za Thet Ka Riz, 721 (135 B.C.) by Saopha Si Hseng Pha.

During his ruling, Nga Htaung and Nga Naung from Tavoy region was allowed to bring 36 families and settled at the Lake at the southern part of Nyaung Shwe, Nam Thae Village of which original name is Nan Sai in Shan Language.

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Inlay region is rich in not only for the beautiful landscape scenery surrounded by the mountains but with the tremendous kinds of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. This paper will primarily focus on the impact of tourism on practices of hand weaving textile made from lotus which make changes either sociologically or culturally and finally on the economic development.

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The authenticity of this product is that the whole process is completed in Inlay lake and the raw material of Lotus is also from the lake.

Socio-Economic life of Inlay People

The main occupation of the Inlay dwellers is fishing and floating gardens. Other livelihood is of weaving, blacksmith, goldsmith, silversmith and boat crafting. There are two kinds of floating island that one is square shape which is directly connected and grasp at the bottom surface of the Inlay lake and another one is rectangular shape which is not connected to the bottom lake surface and can move freely. The first type of island could grow only in summer crop as it would be immersed in the water during the rainy season. But the latter type of island could float at different water level that most agricultural crops are growing there. There is also man-made floating island which were transformed by the mud, silt and soil carried by human from the valley and accumulated on the natural moving floating island to be an unmovable one.

Most main crop is tomatoes which can be cultivated the whole year round unlike the other areas in Myanmar and irrigation system is not a concern that provide significant economic benefits. In fishing, there are many different kinds of fishing styles by Intha but worst water dried up in 2001 eliminate abundant number of fish species. The primary textile products from Inlay are made from cotton, silk and lotus. Among these three, Inlay region is famous for Zin Mal which is weaved from silk. Lotus weaving is originated from Inlay region and renowned weaving robes among local people. In the earlier period, these textile products are mainly weaved in Nam Pan village, Inn Paw Khon village and Ywar Ma village. Nowadays, hand weaving workshop are mostly found in Inn Paw Khon village and goldsmith and silversmith workshops are in Ywar Ma village.

Type of Lotus for Weaving

Padonmakya (Nelumbo nucifera), also known as the sacred lotus or Chinese water-lily or Indian lotus, is a major type of lotus to use in weaving in Myanmar. (Ashin Jawti, 2016; US, 2017). There is spike on the stem which is composed of fiber mixture. Characteristics of Lotus and its fabricA very special resident at Inlay Lake is the lotus flower. Lotus is perceived to have healing properties, and to symbolise purity, divine beauty, fertility, birth, rebirth, resurrection and enlightenment. It is used in many ways, for medicines, treatments and a variety of foods (De Reuver, 2014). Famous characteristics of lotus weaved fabric could maintain cold while hot temperature and warm while cold temperature. Another specialty of soft texture, light in weight and crease-resistant. It was believed that lotus fabric has properties to relief health problems i.e. lotus weaved scarf help healing from the bulbous growth at the neck. The price of lotus fabric is seven times higher than silk.

In Myanmar, the raw material of lotus fiber thread can be available from five locations. ™Ј Sunn-Ye Inn Lake in Sint Kaing Township, ™Ј Innma Lake in Thegone Township, ™Ј Wetthe Lake and Salin Natural Lake in Salin Township, ™Ј Kan Gyi Daunt Lake in Tesel Township and ™Ј Inlay Lake in Nyaung Shwe Township.History of Lotus WeavingAmong the varieties of Padonmar lotus, (Nelumbo nucifera) is the only one which could extract fibres from its stem for fabric. The lotus flower is characterised as success, peaceful, graceful and pure mind and body in Buddhism. Lotus is the sacred for religious matter in the history of Myanmar. At Inlay lake, fabric from lotus fibres is used as specialty for weaving robes for Buddha images. The practice was started a century ago by a woman, Daw Sar Oo. She got the idea to weave lotus for a robe recognising from the fibre of lotus while plucking lotus flower for offering to Pagoda as she wanted to donate as special offering as a robe to the famous monk from Golden Peacock Hill. She took one year to hand weave for that robe.

Social Analysis

The Process of Weaving

A skilled artisan spent 40 days for a square meter of fabric using around 20,000 lotus stems. The lotus stem normally picks in the rainy season of June, July, August, September and October when the stem possesses much fiber. The stem is long and fresh in deep water but in low water the stem is short. However, Padonmar lotus the only kind lotus which we can extract fibre for thread regardless of the stem sizes. If the stem is longer and thicker, the more are the fibre and shorter and thinner produce the lesser fibre. It is crucial to maintain the moisture level that lotus stems are normally immersed in water before the fiber extraction. The extraction of fibre for creating thread could also be done by anyone who have learnt that no restriction of gender or age. After the weaving process, the fabric collected from the front roller need to wash and refine on fabric where there is defect.

In summary, it has more than thirteen steps to pass to get the fabric and the weaver need much patience during the weaving process. The reason of expansiveness on the lotus fabric is not only because of rareness of the raw material but also because of the long process. Hand weaving on a traditional loom for lotus robe fabric would take for 20 days excluding other process of extraction, conditioning and waxing, winding, dying and sewing process. Entire process running by local people at their place that economically beneficial to the local communities. Some elite people wearing lotus product as a particular style especially the celebrity and public face wear it as a fashion.Style of productionNormally at the weaving centers, the owner provides traditional loom and other required material for hand weaving process that the weavers get paid. Another type is that the weaving centers provide for setting up the traditional loom at their respective home that the weaver shall get paid on amount of fabric he or she had weaved. The third type is the weaving centers lend capital to the home weavers that they could sell back the products to the weaving centers. Although hand weaving is mainly based in Inn Paw Khon village, raw lotus thread is produced by the whole area of Inlay region.

The abundant amount of lotus habitat is found in the area which takes about 2-hour drive from Inn Paw Khon village. The hand weaving centers hired the skill personnel of lotus fiber extractor as a demonstrator as tourist attraction. Cultural AnalysisBeliefsNormally, the lotus fiber are extracted at their home and sell at the weaving center. Among the above-mentioned lotus fiber production sites, there are some specific factors to become lotus stem pickers. In the past, lotus stem picker has to be single, unmarried and have to take five precepts before stem picking because lotus is perceived as sacred. As times go by, the limiting factors for the pickers are lessening in Inlay region. In Sunn Ye Inn lake, Innma lake, most of stem pickers are men.

Dying Process

Unlike silk, the lotus fabric is dye after weaving. Normally, the lotus fabric is dyed by natural products like the bark of trees such as betel nut or mango tree bark for red collar, Yae Mae tree bark for black color, sal tree bark or jackfruit tree bark for red brownish color, turmeric for yellow colour, lotus leaf for green colour, pine nut for brown color etc. Dying process differ from one workshop to another. Some use the natural products are boiled together with the fabric in a necessary time frame, depending on different kind of natural material and use salt or sour things to make the color stay on the fabric. But some use the dried powder type. In this method firstly, natural materials are boiled and sun-dried. Once the material dried enough, these were sent to factory to transform to powder type. So, this can be concluded that the traditional dying method is widely used not only because of the nature of the fabric but also the necessity of the advance technology for dying process. Product TrendMyanmar people perceive the lotus is sacred and used lotus fabric mainly for robe donation to the monks at the festive period (October). The lotus product is popular internationally as an exclusive and luxury brand. Lotus popular products were clothing, shawl, hat and necktie which might be purely lotus or mixed of lotus and silk.

Market Trend

The practice of explaining for the weaving process of lotus and other fabric to tourists originated from unpurposive way as when influx of tourists came to Myanmar that local weavers started trying to sell their fabric product by displaying in the showcase at their home. Some tourist interested on observing the process could enjoy watching on it. Then this practice has been broader year by year that it became one of the activities included in the Inlay boat tour. Accordingly, the hand weaving centres hired the skilled personnel of lotus fibre extractor as a demonstrator for tourist attraction and a sale staff is facilitating for the explanation on process. The hand weaving centers main business is weaving Zin Mal, which is made of silk. The production style is different from lotus fabric. These products are widely sold at the local market of Myanmar and the price is reasonable compared to lotus fabric. So, the production of lotus fabric is solely for conserving of the traditional heritage from one generation to another. Because of limitation on the raw material supply, the expansion of market for mass production of lotus fabric is challenging. Another constraint is that the perseverance of weavers as it needs lot of patience during each steps of process. The texture of fiber itself is very soft tender and weaving of lotus by machine is not possible yet.

The original style of lotus fabric robe, which price ranges from MMK 1,600,000 to 2,000,000 and other kinds of products made of pure lotus fabric and mix of lotus and silk like shawl, necktie, longyi, hat, traditional jacket (taikpon), etc. with different price.In Cambodia, a French entrepreneur founded a weaving center and sold many kinds of fabric including lotus products widely and also popular among International customers. Although lotus fabric and product are originated from Myanmar, either the quality of product and marketing strategy is still far away for us to keep pace with them.Economic BenefitsAs mentioned above, three types of weaver income generation: weaving at the workshops getting paid by fixed wages, weaving at home and getting paid on amount of fabric, weaving at home and getting paid by selling back the finished products. No limitation on the gender, age plus flexible working hours. The Inlay weaving industry create earning for the local dwellers.

The lotus products are not the local preference because of pricing and color variation but the people who stand for the value on the process history which include patience, perseverance as well on the rareness and uniqueness of the product becomes the customer. The export market is still very small scale. But Cambodia produce large scale of qualified lotus product such as Samatoa which received seal of excellence from UNESCO in 2012 by a sarong.


Raw material availability is challenging. In order to maintain skillful labor of producing lotus threat and product, it is needed to train the new generation upon technical assisting. The lotus products must be guarantee such as color, texture and pattern display, etc. Government trade policy must be developed to protect culture product. RecommendationsIf culture product spread out across worldwide, foreign revenue can be increased. When culture product is developed, new generations will favor and have high interest upon those products. Natural resources conservation practice will be improved when international visitors notice the rare natural resorts in Myanmar. For long term development and vulnerable ecology of Inlay lake, this is in need for finding ways for sustainable lotus growing, harvesting practices and for nurturing of hand weavers.

Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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Lotus Weaving in Inlay: Tradition, Challenges, and Economic Impact. (2019, Aug 20). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/inlay-lake-in-myanmar-essay

Lotus Weaving in Inlay: Tradition, Challenges, and Economic Impact essay
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