Htamanai Festival (Harvest Festival)

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htamanai festival

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Respect for top priorities
Come Tabodwe (February), the eleventh month of the Myanmar calendar, we have the harvest festival and the making of htamanai, a concoction of glutinous rice, coconut slices, sesamum seeds, peanut and a generous amount of cooking oil.

Among the Myanmars, there is a tradition to observe a custom which is called "top priority for those to whom respect is due".
In small towns and villages rice is still toqked in an earthen pot with a humped lid, so the cooked rice has a peaked shape at the top. This crown of rice is reserved for the shrine and monks. If a Myanmar comes by a rare delicacy, he would set aside a portion for 'top priorities'. The rarer the thing the more care he would take to do so.
Among the agrarian people in the country, it is the custom to set aside the first and choicest produpts of the farms for alms-giving. Hence the tradition of making htamanai, which include most of the fruits of the farms and orchards.
Htamanai feast is either celebrated communally or done just in the private circle of family and friends. The nature of the feast is such that, in whatever way the feast is celebrated, it means a big gathering because many hands are needed. In a communal feast people come around with contributions of glutinous rice and other ingredients. It is an option though; one can just give his service if not anything else.
The joy of doing the chores
There are lots of things to do. Girls usually do the winnowing of the rice grains and sesamum seeds. This is done with flat circular bamboo trays. Each girl has a tray with a heap of grains She holds the tray in both hands and with an expert movement she tosses the grains up in the air. The grains fall into the tray while most of the dust and trash are blown away.
The next thing is to 'roll' the grains moving the tray in circular motion, so that all the dust and trash will separate from the good ones. This task is an art that calls for the highest form of virtuosity.
Boys and men tear away the fibres of the coconut until the shell inside makes its appearance. This also calls for dexterity, strength and experience. The shell is broken and the milk inside is shared by the deserving workers. The kernel is taken out and sliced on a carpenter's plane.
Girls shell the peanuts; the seeds are put on a flat tray and a fair-sized bottle is rolled over them to remove the thin husk. Meanwhile a great concave iron pot is put over the fireplace, a pit dug for the purpose. Cooking oil is sizzling and shredded ginger is the first to go in, and then the glutinous rice which has been soaked in water.
"Sprinkling sesamum seeds"
A large cauldron of water is kept ready to be added to the glutinous rice cooking in the pot. When the rice is soft enough, the pot is removed from the fire and two stalwart men, each with a huge wooden ladle, begin to stir the rice crushing it between the ladles. Even as they stir and crush, the glutinous rice gets stickier and they have to use not only their strength but their skill to make the coagulate mass yields to their laflles.
After some time of vigorous stirring and crushing, people come round to add sliced coconuts and peanuts to make the whole thing a good mixture. Sesamum seeds are added last. This last does not call for strength, but it needs skill, so they say. While the men are pitting their strength to stir and mix the glutinous rice, coconuts and peanuts, the one who spreads sesamum seeds' sits by, sprinkling the seeds by handfuls at regular intervals. The blend and the flavour of htamanqi depends on the sesamum seed sprinkling, it is said.
'Sprinkling sesamum seeds' is a Myanmar idiom, not meant, I am afraid, to describe some commendable work, but to disparage something done by some one, only after others have already done the dirty work.
Come to think of it. I am perhaps doing the same thing. Whatever participation I have in the festival, is my appreciation of htamanai and the propagation of the creed. I am sprinkling sesamum seeds, figuratively, by writing this article. This goes to show that the pen is mightier than the giant ladles that stir the htamanai pots.



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