Small 40-page Folding Book (Parabaik) on Mulberry Bark Paper
19th-early 20th century
length: 32cm, width: 13.8cm
This folding book or parabaik has cabbalistic diagrams in red and black ink. In what is likely to be Shan script (which is closely related to the Mon alphabet), there are also images of magical animals, and so on, but many of the images are of men and women and some show men and women represented jointly and in a diagramatic way: it is likely that this is a parabaik concerned with spells and incantations related to achieving harmonious marital relations (see Conway, 2014, p. 182).
parabaiks record spells and other magic practices – a traditional belief system of the Shan or Tai, that ran parallel with their professed adherence to Theravada Buddhism.
It has been produced on long strip of paper that folds out, concertina-style. The covers comprise paper thickened and hardened with black lacquer.
The paper is made from the inner bark of the local mulberry tree (
Morus indica). According to Conway (2014, p. 39), the bark is cut in thin strips and dried in the sun. It is then boiled in a solution of water and wood ash to soften the fibres. The resulting pulp is then pounded to a smooth paste which is then poured over mesh screens and then left to dry in the sun. The resulting sheets of paper are then peeled off the mesh, trimmed and burnished and cut to the desired size.
Drawing materials included black ink made from powdered soot mixed with animal or fish bile, and if available, Chinese black ink. There were no erasers so if a mistake was made, a white lime paste sometimes was applied to the surface.
Many such magical
parabaik manuscripts have not survived either because they have simply deteriorated with age, or because they were burned as part of a ritual procedure (Conway, 2014, , 42).
The book shows its age but is intact. Most of the drawings on each page important retrain their clarity and sharpness; some have become smudged with dampness. There is no insect damage.
The images below show a selection of (but not all) the pages.
Conway, S., Tai Magic: Arts of the Supernatural in the Shan States and Lan Na, River Books, 2014.
private collection, London
Inventory no.: 4251