Heritage Drinks of Myanmar Book Launch

April 21

The Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development hosts book launch for “Heritage Drinks of Myanmar” Author Luke James Corbin documents the role drinking cultures in a Southeast Asian country have had on the development of human culture and history. Hosted by the Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD) of Chiang Mai University, and with the support of Pernod Ricard Asia, Luke James Corbin and Silkworm Books present Heritage Drinks of Myanmar. This book launch in Chiang Mai, a well-known cultural centre of upland Southeast Asia, celebrates the publication of the author’s research into the role drinking cultures in Myanmar have had on the development of local societies and their history. Based on research undertaken in 2019, Heritage Drinks of Myanmar details fourteen traditional drinks still brewed and distilled in this fascinating and culturally diverse country. The work covers drink preparation methods, ritual uses and the cultural importance of these beverages. Heritage drinks are vital components of village economies across Southeast Asia and are integral to people’s agricultural livelihoods. Published here in a bilingual English and Burmese languages edition, this premium coffee table book also features over 100 colour photographs. Author Luke Corbin demonstrates how the anthropological study of traditions and rituals surrounding alcohol helps better understand historical and ongoing cultural practices, human interactions and societal structures. Corbin explains, “Alcohol is foundational to human civilization. Different drinking cultures have evolved over time the world over, and in Myanmar we see a snapshot of the diversity of human expression found in drink, its importance to rural economies and social life, and how crafting, selling and sharing drinks produced from local and far-flung ingredients provides economic independence for women”. Southeast Asia in particular has a unique and underexplored tapestry of traditional drinks, which are critical to the heritage of the region’s populations. The region also deserves to be more widely known for its cultural heritage on the global stage, at a time when many in the world are looking towards Asia for leadership and inspiration. Trasvin Jittidecharak, founder of Silkworm Books, highlights, “Sharing and enjoying drinks together helps people live, work, and play alongside one another. Such recreation is proof of human society, if not civilization”. Today, we are witnessing the slow disappearance of traditional drinks and the culture surrounding them in many countries where alcohol’s place in society has been central to the development of local communities. “Heritage Drinks of Myanmar gives us a chance to reflect upon the place of alcohol in modern societies”, states Pernod Ricard Asia’s Vice President for Corporate Affairs and Sustainability & Responsibility, Hermance De La Bastide. “As we explore how to tackle harmful consumption behaviors, there stands an opportunity to strengthen society’s knowledge of the role alcohol has played in a country’s history and heritage”, she adds. This allows us to celebrate social norms of moderate consumption and traditions as they once existed. The book Heritage Drinks of Myanmar is being launched together with the exhibition Trance/Figuration sponsored by the Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) and the Alliance Française de Chiang Mai. The photo exhibition is dedicated to Thailand’s spiritual “Yantra” tattoo tradition that has inspired the talismanic tattoo traditions across Cambodia, Myanmar and Lao. Deeply rooted in Southeast Asian culture, the tattoo art form is another example of how closely interwoven people’s identity, language, and histories are with ritual practices. Being tattooed carries social significance and is used to mark milestones in the community, just as alcohol is used in rites of passage and major community rituals. The artistic expression found in the expert tattoo artist is equivalent to the expert village brewer or distiller, who puts part of themselves into their drinks, conforming with, differing from, and helping shape the always-changing cultural expression of their communities.

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