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).