Thet Tun Naing / The Irrawaddy
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Kayah’s Disappearing Traditional Bamboo Guitars

Nyein Nyein The Irrawaddy

The art of crafting a “kaloe”—a traditional bamboo guitar made by ethnic Kayah—is disappearing and the instrument is now mainly sold as a souvenir item at makers’ homes in Kayah villages in Loikaw and Demoso townships.

Khu Mee Reh, a 70-year-old ethnic Kayah, also known as Karenni, is one of the last kaloe makers.

He has been crafting bamboo guitars and flutes since he was a teenager, and frequently plays them at home.

Khu Mee Reh and his wife Mou Soe Myar live in Tanelale village in Demoso Township, about a 15-minute drive from Loikaw.

In his village, both domestic and international tourists experience traditional food and culture still practiced by the older members of the community.

Mou Soe Myar, a grandmother, always wears traditional dress: A short longyi weaved from cotton, a black top that just covers one shoulder, a long shawl, large silver earrings, bracelets, and necklaces and lacquered cotton rings on her legs.

“I have been wearing these since I was young and I don’t want to change,” she told The Irrawaddy.

But traditional dress has been disappearing among the younger generations, except for during festivals.

Younger Kayah villagers said they don’t want to wear traditional dress as it involves too many accessories and is not beautiful when it’s worn incomplete.

Khu Mee Reh said he and his wife sold the bamboo guitars for use in peoples’ homes in the past, but he has started to sell them to tourists who visit Kayah areas to experience a traditional way of life.

He said he would be happy to pass on kaloe-making skills to anyone who wanted to learn, but that there was a lack of interest among the community.

Tourists can purchase a kaloe from Khu Mee Reh’s home for just 5,000 kyats, and enjoy a traditional music performance by him and his wife.