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Wearing tradition – thanaka paste in a Rohingya camp

Thanaka, a paste that has been used for centuries to protect skin from the sun, is traditionally applied in swirls to the cheeks of Rohingya Muslim women. Itʹs a custom female refugees in Bangladesh are keen to preserve.

Rufia Begum, aged 9, is among more than 700,000 Rohingya who have taken shelter in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh after fleeing a military crackdown in Myanmar last year, the United Nations and human rights groups say.

A Rohingya refugee woman named Laila Begum, aged 23, poses for a photograph as she wears thanaka paste at Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, 31 March 2018.

Thanaka is produced from the bark of a tree found in the dry central parts of Myanmar. A flat stone called a “kyauk pyin” is used to grind the bark into a milky yellow paste.

“The make-up is my hobby and it’s our tradition – I can live without eating rice, but I cannot live without makeup,” says Juhara Begum, 13, who arrived in Cox’s Bazar in September last year. Wearing the protective paste on her face, she adds: “I live on top of the hill and it is too hot with the strong sun.”

Rohingya women believe the use of the paste keeps their skin smooth and cool, safe from exposure to the sun, while also fending off acne.

The paste is applied to the face in various patterns and dries into a protective layer. While it is used medicinally elsewhere in Asia, women in Myanmar also use it as a cosmetic.

A Rohingya refugee girl named Senuara Begum, aged 14, poses for a photograph as she wears thanaka paste at Jamtoli camp in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, 1 April 2018. “I like the makeup,” says Senuara.

Rohingya girls and women use traditional methods to make the paste from thanaka tree bark which is sold in the camps.

Zannat Ara, a nine-year-old Rohingya girl, said the paste protected her against the swarms of insects in the Kutupalong refugee camp where she now lives. “I wear make-up to keep my face clean, but also because there are some insects that bite my face. This keeps them away.”

Razina Begum, aged 16, poses for a photograph as she wears thanaka paste at Jamtoli camp in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, 1 April 2018. “I use the make up to keep my face clean and fresh. I wear it everyday,” she says.

 

Author: Clodagh Kilcoyne

Date

28.08.2018 | 15:22

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