Tha Na Kah: It’s Makeup and Sunscreen!

Several years ago I asked Klo Say about the light brown substance I saw swirled on the cheeks of the Karen women, children, and teens.  He told me that it was make-up one time and sunscreen another.   Yesterday as I was reading an auto-biography by a Karen lady named Zoya Phan, I found her telling about this in the following paragraph:

“My mother’s complexion was a little darker than my father’s;  I had inherited his lighter coloring.  Every day she would weal tha na kah–a traditional Karen face cream–on her cheeks.  She used to make the tha na kah from the bark of the tha maw glay, the tamarind tree.  She would take a smooth-worn stone and roll a length of bark backward and forward on it, adding a little water as she did so.  Gradually, the bark would dissolve into a light yellow paste:  the tha na kah cream.  She would rub in onto her cheeks, using a circular motion, until it left a little yellow sun on each one.  We Karen believe that tha na kah makes a woman look beautiful, and it also protects our skin from the sun.  It was the only “makeup” I ever wore; the next closest thing was when my sister, Bwa Bwa, and I improvised lipstick by smearing some old vitamin tablets across our lips.  My mother would rub tha na kah onto my cheeks, arms, and legs to keep me cool in the hot season.  And when she grew old and less capable, we children did the same for her ( p. 15, Undaunted. Phan, Zoya, 2010. Free Press, New York, NY).


About johnmcmurphy

Jesus is first and foremost in my life. He is above all religions, principalities and powers. In everything He must increase and I must decrease. Into the hands of Jesus, God has placed life and death, truth and purity. strength and meaning. Only in a growing understanding of the triune God, and his son Jesus can I do, breathe, exist and serve. I have a Bachelor's degree in Bible from Vennard College, a Master's in Social Science from Azusa Pacific University and a Ph. D. from Ohio State in Family Relations and Human Development. I am an ordained pastor involved in cross-cultural ministry. I am currently employed at several colleges as an instructor. If you need to get in touch with me, just leave a comment, I screen all comments and so you can leave further contact information which I will erase before it is published. -John

Posted on March 25, 2011, in K-L, Karen, V-Z. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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