Myanmar group holds ‘Water Fest’

Learn more about your southeast Asian neighbors, and how they celebrate the most important holiday carried from their home country …

Gathering in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood for the “Water Festival”, presented by the Myanmar Multi Ethnic Group – people enjoy an afternoon of food, conversation, and cultural entertainment.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

More than 100 celebrants gathered on the afternoon of on April 22 in the Ron Russell Middle School atrium to celebrate the “Water Festival”, part of the traditional Burmese New Year celebration, this year organized by the Myanmar Multi Ethnic Group.

There are many ethnic groups in Burma, which now called “Republic of the Union of Myanmar”, and this is an opportunity for them all to get together and celebrate their traditional New Year, explained the organizer, Andrew Naymyo.

Welcoming all to their Water Festival is organizer, Andrew Naymyo.

“Dating back to ancient times in Myanmar, in April is the last month in the calendar,” Naymyo told East Portland News. “The significance of the Water Festival is that it represents the start of the season and, because it’s summertime there, it’s hot, and it feels so good to play in water.

“But also, being washed or sprayed with water symbolizes becoming clean; Not just the body, but also the mind and soul,” Naymyo explained. “It’s good to come into a new year, leaving the negative aspects of the old year behind.”

Dressed in their traditional costumes, members of the Kachin Youth Group are ready to perform.

No water was splashed during the celebration, but elders did teach the children the meaning of it. “Back at home we would throw or spray water on people as they pass by, but not here – not in this chilly Oregon weather!” Naymyo demurred. “We do maintain the tradition of offering food to whoever comes, and we have an afternoon of performances from many culture groups.

These performers with the Mon Youth Group demonstrate a traditional, cultural dance.

“It is important to preserve our culture; we want to show our young people, and have them participate in our traditions, to help them keep their own identity, and understand that they are unique with their traditional culture,” said Naymyo. “In addition to keeping our traditions, we’re also here to share our rich and diverse culture with our new community, right here where we now live.”

Traditional foods are offered at this festival.

Craton Highways and Zinzin Tun sing up a storm at this year’s Water Festival.

Youth and adult groups, representing Myanmar, Mon, Karen, Kachin, and Zomi cultures, demonstrated ethnic dances, and sang traditional songs, along with those having a definitely Western sound.

So, while Western culture was saying “Happy New Year” five months ago, the people at this festive occasion said the same thing – but in their own language: “Thingyan”.

We wish all of our Myanmar neighbors “Thingyan”!

© 2017 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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