Marble carving flourishes in Myanmar
SAGYIN, Myanmar (Reuters Life!) - For centuries, villagers at the foot of a hill in central Myanmar have carved a life out of stone.
"Sagyin" means marble in Burmese, and the village -- about 33 km (20.5 miles) north of the regional capital of Mandalay -- is surrounded by a mountain range with large quantities of marble.
Two-thirds of its roughly 5,000 families survive on making statues, and the craftsmen for which the village is known are practically born with the skill, chiseling rock for as long as they can remember. "If one doesn't have a degree, it is not easy to get a good job. I am not well-educated -- and I've been doing this job my whole life," U Pho Ni, 66, said.
U Pho Ni has been carving statues for four decades and has passed on the craft to his son, daughters and grandchildren.
Chit Ko, his son, now runs the workshop, which specializes in 1 foot (0.348 meter) tall Buddha statues that are sold to Mandalay souvenir shops. His 19-year-old son, John Ko Ko, will inherit one day.
The whole family is involved. The men hammer and chisel the stone, while the women polish the finished statues. Men earn a daily wage of 2,000 kyat ($2.25), while women are paid 1,500 kyat ($1.70). "This is our family's business. It's a legacy," John Ko Ko, himself a carver, said.
Unlike farmers, who are at the mercy of each harvest season's ups and downs, marble collectors and craftsmen say that as long as there is stone and demand for Buddha statues, their livelihood will remain profitable.
Sagyin marble is highly rated for its hardness and texture, varying from pure white to bluish gray in color. But fine marble is becoming increasingly rare, and workers can toil for months to extract a 45-tonne slab that sells for up to $40,000. Continued...