A Hairy Subject – the Initiation Ceremony Shinbyu

IMG_0943-2After having limited my actions to moving around between beach lounger, balcony armchair, restaurant chair and bed, I start feeling more like myself again – I really needed this (attached a picture of my new office). A little gekko has moved in with me – he obviously got lost, and all attempts to coax him outside again were fruitless. They are supposed to be nice and peaceful (unless you are a fly, mosquito or spider), and should keep same away from me.

One of the greatest privileges for me was to be at an initiation ceremony for young monks or novices.

Every burmese boy will become a novice for a while and live in a monastery, often just for a few days or weeks. This is a great honor for boy and parents. The initiation ceremony is called Shinbyu, and is a very important and grand celebration, including the entire village. The future novices wear colourful traditional robes and are being feted for hours, before a monk will shave off their hair and they’ll receive their monk robe. The age of the boys can vary – at our ceremony, there were small boys as well as teenagers. After having spent time in the monastery, the boys return home.

There is no such thing for girls; if they become novices, it’s usually for life – there is no corresponding short time honorary novice service. This is a reflection of the fact that nuns are generally one step below the masters of the universe. If you want to become a Buddha (a wise or supreme being), you have to first be reborn as a man. I spare you my comments at this time, they should be self-evident. Well – the catholic church isn’t much better.

A litte digression – what about equal rights for women generally? Officially, the Burmese society is one of equal rights between men and women, although the roles are split very traditionally. Inofficially: I quote from the travel guide of a modern Burmese (obviously male) writer: „“If women accept a role a step behind their menfolk, they do so freely and willingly“. Okaaayy.

There is however an ear-piercing ceremony for girls, who – as the name suggests – receive an ear-piercing and earring.


Some more pictures (the quality is very low res, but that’s the only way I can get them through the line):

A novice is born:

And a little nun – the little girl suffered the hair shaving with admirable dignity. I was a bit surprised by how young the girl is – but I don’t know the circumstances behind the parents’ decision::

And here a little boy who had less fun with it all – it was heartbreaking:

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