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Rare, Large Lacquer Tea Leaf Cylinder Box (Pyi-daung)
Rakhine (Arakan) State, Western Burma
height: 51cm, diameter: 31.5cm
This tall, cylindrical box is a pyi-daung or a box for storing dried tea leaves. It is from Rakhine state in Burma's far west. Rakhine lacquer is the rarest of all
types of Burmese lacquerwork are rarely is present even in museum collections.
The box is made of a woven split bamboo basket substrate heavily lacquered and then decorated with molded relief work, a technique known as thayo,
whereby lacquer is molded and extruded into designs over the surface. The lacquer has a cinnabar-red hue over a darkened base.
The lid fits snugly over the box and it too is decorated with thayo work. The top of the lid is decorated with five stylised bilu (ogre) figures separated by foliate
motifs. The use of bilu figures is an identifying characteristic of Rakhine lacquerware (Than Htun, 2013, p. 248).
A later pyi-daung (though not from Rakhine) is illustrated in Isaacs et al (2011, p. 165) - this would appear to be the only pyi-daung published to date.
Locally-grown tea is a ubiquitous beverage in Burma. Traditionally, it is offered in restaurants and roadside stalls free of charge as a refreshment to all-comers
and passers-by to the extent that it was not even necessary to actually buy anything to be permitted to consume the tea on the premises without charge.
Burmese, particularly from rural areas, are still surprised today when they travel outside Burma to discover that they are actually required to pay for tea if they
visit a teashop or cafe. The vast quantities of tea consumed and the fact that the dried leaves are not finely milled and so quite bulky en masse required quite
large tea leaf storage containers.
The example here has losses to the lacquer here and there as can be seen from the images but the rarity of this type of lacquer and this type of receptacle is
a compensatory factor. We are unaware of any other Rakhine pyi-daungs that have been published.
Isaacs, R., et al, Laque et Or de Birmanie, Silvana Editoriale, 2011.
Than Htun (Dedaye), Lacquerware Journeys: The Untold Story of Burmese Lacquer, River Books, 2013.
Provenance: UK art market
Inventory no.: 4543
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