But, who are the goldmakers? Andrés Brenner from Meanwhile Productions steps inside a gold leaf workshop to meet the men behind the craft, and see what the process is all about.
Goldmaking is a painstaking job. The process is long, and comprises many steps. Inside small workshops, men spend long hours pounding on packages of bamboo paper that cover pieces of gold, which will soon become a gold leaf.
They use half a coconut and a bucket as a time-keeping device. A small hole in the coconut shell drips water to fill the bucket. When the bucket has been filled 80 times, the pounding process is complete.
Gold is sensitive to temperature, the many pounding techniques have their own specific effect. For about seven hours the goldmakers skillfully beat with their wooden mallets on the stack, until the gold is thinner than a strand of human hair.
Meanwhile, they chew their betel nuts – a common addictive habit in Myanmar which causes red stained teeth and a brownish smile.
Once thin enough, the delicate gold foil will be carefully packaged for sale by women in a separate room. Local handmade gold leaf costs around 32,000 kyat (US $23) for a pack of 100 sheets, weighing about 1 gram. The price reflects the purity of the product and the labor that goes into it.
The gold industry has existed since the time of ancient Myanmar monarchs. Gold leaf is an essential product for Buddhist life in Myanmar, as it is regularly used for offering. It is also used in Burmese traditional medicine, in cosmetics, and to decorate lacquerware.
Myanmar has about 50 workshops, which are all concentrated in the south-east region of Mandalay.
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