ACHEIQ-LUNTAYA TAPESTRY-WOVEN SILK HTA-MEIN
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.