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Male rites of passage are common in cultures all over the world. Although different in shape and form, a common denominator is often that these rites comprise either pain, danger or the threat of isolation. Among the Shan people of Burma and northern Thailand, this could, however, not be further from the truth.
When boys of the Shan tribe undergo the ritual “Poi Sang Long”, the focus lies on what in the Western world would be described as “feminine values”. They are dressed up in bright colours and adorned with make-up. The aim is to mimic the young Prince Siddhartha before he became Lord Buddha. Even though the purpose of the ritual is to show that the boys are ready to become mature and responsible men, it is loaded with aesthetic values and free from any physical trials. This is what sets it apart from other typical male rituals – and Bamberg’s portraits question the cultural and societal constructs of gendered norms.
The entire series, Flowers, is absolutely stunning. Check out the rest of the series here.