Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1853 Burmese myinsi
Subjectmyinsi cavalryman
Culture: Burmese
Setting: Konbaung dynasty, Burma 19thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)


* Gordon 1875 p182-183
"The dress, except in material, is alike for all ranks.  There is scarcely a Burman, however, of any age or either sex, who has not at least one dress of native manufacture, and which may range in price from one to ten pounds sterling.  In proportion to their wealth they spend freely in the acquisition of new and good clothes.  The costume of a Burman consists of a waist cloth (pootsho), generally of gay colours, fifteen feet long and three feet four inches broad.  It is tucked round the waist; one end depends in front, and can be worn either hanging down to the knees or girded up so as to leave bare the thighs.  The upper garments consist of a jacket (engye) and a turban (goung boung), the latter generally a silken handkerchief of some bright colour, and of English manufacture."

* Knight/Scollins 1990 p46 (reconstructing a regular cavalryman, c.1885)
"Regular Burmese troops were distinguished by characteristic helmets of lacquered bamboo, although there seems to have been little uniformity of dress otherwise.  The heavy tattooing on the thigh was a traditional Burmese practice."

* Knight/Scollins 1990 p18
"Most of the men were peasant levies and poorly trained, but they seem to have been well acquainted with firearms, and were courageous when well led.  The uniform of the regular troops consisted of a well-made bamboo helmet lacquered red, with a white spike on top; a coloured tunic, and trousers with a stripe.  There seems to have been little uniformity of colouring, and many soldiers seem to have worn the putsoe, the everyday loincloth of civilian Burmese, either over or instead of their trousers." 


* Gordon 1875 p184
"The majority of Burmese men undergo the process of tattooing when very young; the whole of their lower limbs from hips to knees being covered with various devices.  The operation is performed by professed tattooers, who employ for the purpose needles sufficiently weighted to make them penetrate the skin and draw blood as they fall upon the part that is being ornamented.  Two kinds of colour are used: the one blue -- prepared, it is said, from oil of a fish known locally under the name of Merga; the other ochre.  The process sometimes takes years to complete, it being considered that the more extensively it covers the lower part of the body and limbs, the more manly its subject looks.  It is even said that some persons are physically incapable of undergoing the whole process; that fever and affections of the kidneys result from it.  It is further asserted that the custom of tattooing is falling into disuse.  According to accounts received, hereditary slaves, in addition to the ordinary tattooing upon the lower limbs, have the operation inflicted upon their necks and wrists.
    ​"It is related that the practice of tattooing owes its origin to a desire on the part of the men to be thus marked in order that when bathing they should be readily distinguished from women.  According to another account, it was introduced, as already observed, in order to render the men less attractive to the opposite sex, and thus check to some extent the prevalent infidelity of the former to their matrimonial obligations."


* Knight/Scollins 1990 p18
"The cavalry were mounted on small hardy ponies and carried the dah sword, which had a narrow blade about 18ins. long, and was carried in a scabbard from a sling over the shoulder."

​* Pitt Rivers Museum online > Dha (1968.23.55)
"The dha is the national sword of Myanmar, the country alternatively known as Burma. It has a distinctively long cylindrical grip for use with two hands and is stylistically similar to the curved sabres of ChinaThailandKorea and Japan. In fact, the name for this weapon is remarkably similar in all these places: among Tai speakers it is known as a darb or daarb and in Tibeto-Burman and Chinese languages it may be called dao.
    "[....]  Although it shares a stylistic ancestry with other one-edged, curved swords of East Asia, Burmese swords lack any significant guard. Traditional Burmese warfare involved the besiegement of forts with stockades 2.5 to 5 metres high. Musketry and artillery were used to breach the stockades, after which hand-to-hand combat ensued, using dhas ...."

* Coe/Connolly/Harding, Harris/LaRocca/Richardson/North/Spring/Wilkinson p198 (Frederick Wilkinson, "India and Southeast Asia" p186-203)
"During the Burmese Wars of 1824-86, ... many of the Burmese carried their national sword, the dha.  This weapon has a passing affinity in shape with the Japanese sword, although there is no comparison in quality.  The blade is slightly curved, single-edged and usually tapers to a point, although some examples have square tips, and along at least part of the back edge there is often a band of silver inlay.  Blade length varies from a few inches to full sword length.  The hilt is guardless, sometimes with an ornate silver-banded grip with a large onion-shaped pommel.  The Burmese carried their dhas in wooden sheaths, some of which were wrapped in sheet silver; a length of woven cord was bound around the mouth of the sheath, leaving a loop which passed over the shoulder."

* Gordon 1875 p186
"Every Burman carries his dâh.  This implement or weapon serves a variety of purposes -- from that of a knife and sword to those of an axe.  It is used alike for felling wood, carving or cutting up fish, or driving a post; and it is at all times a dangerous weapon of offence as well as of defence.  Heavy-backed and sharp-edged, the Burman carries it over his shoulder as he walks along.  He is impressionable and irascible in temper; his passions are easily roused; and one or two cuts inflicted during a fit of rage are sufficient to destroy the life of whoever at the time falls under the violence of his temper.  Each particular class in Burmah seem to have their distinctive form of dâh; of each form there are many varieties, and it is said the weapons are often handed down as heirlooms in a family."