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Burma Anonymous,
Bag, 1900-1935
27 in. x 9 in. (68.58 cm x 22.86 cm)

Object Type: Textile
Technique: Woven
Credit Line: Gift of Ms. Katherine Osborne
Accession Number: T491

Bag, 1900-1925 (T491) from the Scripps College Collection is a multicolored shoulder bag from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The body of the bag is woven from an alternating black linen warp with multicolored silk and metal-wrapped thread weft patterning. The bag is then decorated with seed beads in two short rows down the front of the bag and on the sides in a flower motif.1 This particular bag is in the traditional shan-bag design but was probably created for the tourism market.
In Southeast Asia, particularly in Myanmar, the shoulder bag is a traditional and widespread bag design. The bags are produced in large quantities both for export and for local use. The colorful bags are characterized by the unique tassels, roughly 3 inches long, that hang off each side at the bottom of the bag. The traditional shoulder bag is made of pinkish-brown hand woven cloth called pinni, but today, the bags are created in nearly every color of the rainbow. Although the body of the bag and the straps are often in the same color, Bag, from the Scripps Collection, with its black straps and multicolored body is characteristic of traditional shoulder bags patterning. In the past, the shoulder bag was the main type of bag for the people of Myanmar. With the introduction of many more bag types during the 20th century— backpacks, purses, suitcases, briefcases, etc— the need for the shoulder bag became less necessary. Despite that, the shoulder bags are still used commonly by all ages because of their washable, reusable, and environmentally friendly design. Today, the bags are used daily by many Burmese people as tote bags, by students to carry their textbooks, and they continue to be the bag of choice for monks.2
The shoulder bags are traditionally woven on small hand looms, but today are made on both machine operated and hand-looms. The jut-khok is a small hand loom that is commonly used by young girls to make the shoulder bags. The weaver sits on the floor with both legs outstretched with a belt strapped around the waist to keep the hundreds of thread in line. The weavers beat each thread into place with a piece of flat wood giving the loom the name jut-khok, “hacking into place”.3
The shoulder bag is a common bag throughout Indonesia, but it is particularly popular amongst the Shan people. The Shan migrated from southern China around 1000 a.d. establishing numerous small states in the mountainous region of northern Burma. Shan, a European labeled name, refer to themselves as “Tai,” and are widespread in mountain valleys in southern China, northern Thailand, and eastern Myanmar (the Shan State).4 The Shan people located in the Inle Lake region are recognized for their weaving industry and the popular shoulder bag, or Shan-bag, is produced in large quantities here. Although the Shan bag is very popular, the Kachin State in northern Myanmar produces similar shoulder bags as well. For Kachin people, the shoulder bag is part of male ceremonial attire. The bag, symbolizing accumulation of wealth, is presented to the groom by his bride on their wedding day. Whether it be for practical or ceremonial use, the shoulder bag is an important textile accessory for the people of Myanmar.
The particular coloring and quality of Bag, 1900-1925 from the Scripps College collection suggest that this bag was produced for purchase by a visitor to Myanmar. The size, seeds, and colored silk weaving suggest that this bag was created with the tourism market in mind rather than for practical use by the local Myanmar people. Shoulder bags are traditionally used to transport goods, money, books, etc., but the small proportions of this particular bag would not be the right size for any of these tasks. Additionally, the sewn on seeds could easily catch on surroundings, break, and fall off, making the decorations impractical on a bag to be used by working people. The subtle design with the brightly colored silk and metallic thread would catch the eye of visiting tourists to purchase and bring back home from their travels. Bag, 1900-1925 is a great example of a traditional Shan-bag produced for export.
Overall, Bag, 1900-1925 from the Scripps College permanent collection is in great condition with only a few of the decorative seeds missing. The design, fabric, weaving style, and decoration suggest that this particular bag is a Shan-bag produced for export and purchased by a visitor to Myanmar in the early 20th century.


1 “Bag: Burma Anonymous." Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery. (February 16, 2015)

2 Myint, Myo. "IN PRASE OF THE MYANMAR SHOULDER BAG." TODAY Myanmar. 14 Sept. 2014. (February 16, 2015).

3 Khaing, Myatt. "Myanmar Cotton Weaving in Inle Lake." MT & K Tourism Company, 2010. (February 16, 2015).

4 Tannenbaum, Nicola. "Shan." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. 1996. (February 16, 2015).

Kaela Nurmi, Scripps 2015

linen warp, silk and metal-wrapped threads for weft, decorated with seeds.

Object Description
Rectangular black linen bag with a strap handle formed by a side piece. Decorated with multicolored silk and metal-wrapped thread weft patterning and white seeds.

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