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Acheiq-Luntaya Tapestry-Woven Silk HTA-MEIN(detail)

Burmese (Myanmar), Amarapura-Sagaing region, late 19th c.

The everyday clothing of Burmese royalty and laity were, in essence, the same in overall construction; however, it was the fabric from which these garments were made that underscored their significant difference. Though cotton textiles were the mainstays of daily wardrobes, social protocol demanded the wearing of regal silk textiles called acheiq-luntaya at court. In Burmese, luntaya means “one hundred shuttles,” referring to the small metal or wooden shuttles that are required to construct the double-interlocking tapestry weave structure. Acheiq refers to the horizontal wave-like motifs purportedly inspired by ripples on the Irrawaddy River, Burma’s principal waterway; the fundamental acheiq elements could be embellished upon and recombined to create an endless series of composite patterns. The traditional acheiq repertoire is indigenous to Burma, but may have evolved from ancient designs of a common Chinese and Southeast Asian heritage. It has been suggested that this type of weaving was introduced to Burma in the eighteenth century by artisans from Manipur, India; luntaya is also similar to techniques used by the Tai Leu people of northern Thailand and Laos, though it is significantly more complicated. In the nineteenth century, the Amarapura-Sagaing area of Burma was the chief producer of acheiq-luntaya for the royal household. The costliness of luntaya textiles was not only measured in the materials—lustrous raw silk imported from China—but also in the extreme labor, skill and time invested in their production.

Sumptuary laws dictated which members of Burmese society could wear these expensive textiles. Privileged men wore lengthy acheiq-luntaya garments called pah-soe; these were elaborately wrapped about the wearers’ hips in various configurations. Ladies of the court wore acheiq-luntaya fashioned into hta-mein. This rectangular skirt-like garment was worn wrapped high on the waist or over the breast and folded in front with a slight overlap, revealing a glimpse of the wearer’s leg when in motion. Above the luntaya portion, a waistband of cotton or velvet was added and, below, a length of striped silk cloth was usually attached to the hem to form a train around the feet. Alady’s comportment in this fluid skirt was of utmost importance—according to a British observer in nineteenth-century Burma, “its graceful management, in either walking or dancing, is one of the accomplishments of a Burmese belle.” The hta-mein was often worn in conjunction with a breast cloth and a tight-fitting, long-sleeved jacket of white muslin or silk.

Of exceptional quality and refinement, this courtly hta-mein illustrates both simplicity and complexity in acheiq-luntaya design. Incorporated below the dark blue figured cotton waistband is a luntaya panel with two key acheiq elements: maha kyo shwei taik (great line golden building), the stepped, undulating bands with small protruding tabs at each peak, and gamoun, tendrils of ornamental vine motifs sprouting from wave patterns. These sophisticated foliate flourishes add delicacy to the bold parallel lines of the fabric.

Acheiq-Luntaya Tapestry-Woven Silk HTA-MEIN

Not only was artistry displayed in the weaver’s intricate combination of acheiq motifs, but also in color selections. A seemingly limitless array of hues was created with natural dyestuffs, both native to Burma and imported. Subtle yet powerful, the coloration of this acheiq-luntaya also takes advantage of the interplay between contrasting warp and weft threads for slight variations in tone.

This rare, intact garment was collected in Burma, and was exhibited in “Lun-taya Kyoe-ghi-geik: Cloth of Many Shuttles” at Smith College, Massachusetts, in September, 2002. A nineteenth-century hta-mein with similar acheiq patterning is found in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (9757 IS).

62” H x 42.5” W

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