The popularity of old Burmese puppet marionettes in Burma/Myanmar is still evident today. Evidence of their existence was first noted in 1444. Since this time the art of puppetry grew and became a popular form of entertainment for the Burmese people. Up until the 1870’s many of the puppets were worked with only a few strings, whereas the more modern puppets have many more. Between 1820 and 1885 puppet shows were at there best, although there was a brief revival around the 1940’s.
During the late 1950’s the Ministry of Burmese Union Culture often presented visiting foreign cultural delegations with rare sets of puppets, many of them had been used at the Mandalay court. By 1968 it is recorded that there were twenty seven active puppet theatres in Myanmar and around 50 lesser known theatre companies, some were booked for about a hundred performances each season.
Since sanctions have been lifted there has been a revival in this art form and it is now on the list of must sees for most foreign tourists visiting Myanmar today, especially the famous Moustache Brothers Puppets shows in Mandalay.
A traditional puppet show in Myanmar known also as “Htwe Oo” or “Ah Myint Thabin” is orchestrated by a group of puppeteers, women manipulate the female puppets and men the male puppets, it is assumed by assigning the same gender to a puppet it will capture the correct movements for that gender. Many of the older puppets were made with moveable limbs, head and mouth. To manipulate the puppets movements a total number of seventeen strings were attached to the parts of a typical puppet, on the end of the string is a wooden handle to hold the string as well as an aid in manipulating the parts of the puppet. The presenter has to use both hands to manipulate the puppet by holding the wooden handle and pulling the respective strings.