For about two weeks in August, a little village in central Mandalay is transformed. The small alleys of Taungbyone teem with festivalgoers waving flowers and paying homage to dozens of natsayers, or ‘spirit wives’. These mediums perform dance rituals to honor two ancient nats, or spirits, from the Bagan era. The mischievous brothers were supposedly executed by King Anawrahta in 1044 AD for failing to contribute to a pagoda in Taungbyone, and their spirits left to haunt the village. At the pwe held to honor them, almost all the mediums are gay men or transgender women – believed to be better equipped to connect with the spirit world thanks to more fluid sexuality – so the celebration is especially popular with the LGBT community. Each day of the festival – which officially lasts for eight but is often extended – is set aside for a certain event, from bringing offerings and carrying images of nats to eating roasted rabbit (beloved by the nat brothers).
This year’s annual nat pwe, or spirit festival, came to an end Sunday. Coconuts Yangon contributor Watsamon Tri-yasakda was there.