The Kachin State lies in northern Burma with snow-capped mountains in the far north. It is also where the confluence of the Maykha and Malikha rivers gives rise to the mighty Ayeyarwady. The Kachin national has a developed culture or their own. The six different ethnic sub-groups belong to the Kachin; their dresses are colourful but different and their dialects also differ. But they share the tradition of the Manau Festival and the dances of our Kachin kinsfolk at their traditional Manau Festivals are a blend dignity and delight. The men look warrior-like with their swords held in front and the women in their colourful and varied national costumes are captivating. Of the variety of Kachin dances, the Manau dance is performed at Manau festivals, which originated as part of the ‘Nat’ or spirit worship of the past. There are ten kinds of Manau festivals held in commemoration of some special event such as a successful harvest. But only five of these festivals are considered to be of great significance.
These five principal Manau festivals are;(1) Sut Manau (2) Rawt Malan or Padang Manau (3) Ju Manau (4) Kum Ran Manau and (5) Sha Dip Hpawt Manau festivals.
The Rawt Malan or Padang Manau Festival. This festival is held to ensure victory in battle. In ancient times, it was like a battle cry issued forth to recruit warriors to march on enemies.
Then there is the Ju Manau, which is a festival to pray for health, protection from harm, for offspring to carry on family traditions and other religious occasions.
The Kum Ran Manau is traditionally held to bless a family member who has decided to leave the fold and set up his own household and work his own land.
The Sha Dip Hpawt Manau is held to exorcise any evil spirits that may be present in a new plot of land that is to be cultivated.
The Sut Ren Manau or Sut Manau is the most important of the festivals. It is a grand festival to celebrate outstanding charitable and philanthropic acts by the "Duwagyi" or "Great Chieftains". Today the State together with wealthily Kachin people sponsor the Sut Manau in honour of the endeavours made by the Kachin national races for the progress and development of the Kachin State. It is also said to be a festival to welcome new kinsmen and friends.
The venue of the festival is also specially arranged and decorated. Twelve poles are fixed in the very centre of the enclosure set aside for the celebrations. six of these poles are placed upright, with two other pairs, each arranged in the form of a cross. The remaining two are then placed parallel to the ground with one much higher than the other. However, depending on the purpose of the occasion, the Manau poles are arranged in a varying patterns. The configurations on the Manau poles are stylized designs that depict the trail of ants, birds, butterflies in flight, bulls with horns locked, waves, and seeds that have sprouted and proliferated.
The basic designs however are diamond shapes and curved lines. The top and bottom of the poles are panted with pictures of the sun, moon and earth. The topmost side of the pole is cut, shaped and painted over in the form of bird’s beak.
The principal musical instrument is the booming drum, which can be heard within a radius of 4 or 5 miles. It is a long two-faced drum made of calf or water buffalo leather. It is called the Long Drum or Great Drum. Then there are the large gongs and a flute called a "Dum Bar" on which is fixed a horn of the buffalo. The Manau dance does not feature the one-sided. "Ozi" drum or cymbals as in another Kachin traditional dance, the "Htawng Ka".
The leaders of the Manau Festival wear long robes with headdresses of hornbill or peacock feathers. The headdresses are also adorned with tusks of wild boar.
The Kachin Manau festival is inaugurated by the highest-ranking chief or official present after which follows the beat of the drums and the echo of the gongs to invite all those far and near to join in the festivities.
The ‘Manau dance’ is performed by two groups with two persons leading each group. Behind the leaders come the members of various clans, the Maru (Lachieik), Lashi, Azi, Zaiwa, Rawang, Lisu and Jinghpaw in full ceremonial national dress. All those following behind have to watch the leaders and follow their dance step and change steps and rhythm when they do.
When the dance begins the Manau leaders and their respective group members face the guests in the pavilion and perform a dance or obeisance. Then they turn towards the Manau poles and bow and dance in homage. The two groups first dance in rows, gradually forming crescents and finally forming one large circle that goes round and round the Manau poles, but later as the drum beat and rhythm of the music change the large circle converges to the centre, and all bow from head and waist and then step backwards to form a wide circle again. When all the dance steps have been completed, the guests and anyone who wishes to are invited to join in the dance. Sometimes, the leaders form the patterns painted on the Manau poles with special dance steps.
A Kachin ‘N’Htu’ or sword is an important feature or the Manau Dance and is held upright by the ancer. In Kachin culture the sword or knife is the most unique and indispensable tool of life. W ith this knife, land is cleared for cultivation, trees felled for timber to build house and vows are exchanged with the Kachin ‘n htu’ as witness in betrothal ceremonies much as a Bible is used in Christian ceremonies.
It was also with this sword that Kachin nationalists revolted against colonial rule. So it is no wonder that the Kachin sword features so prominently in the most important of the Kachin Manau festivals. The Manau dance consists of at least 7 to 9 dance movements and the dance itself last form a minimum of one to three hours to a maximum of four to eight days.
Any one, irrespective of race, religion or status, is welcome to participate in this traditional dance festival. It is a very pleasant enjoyable way to get to know at first hand the culture and traditions so dear to the heart of the Kachin peoples. With this dance can also be strengthened the foundations of friendship and national unity.