Weight Units

The smallest weight units of the Burmese scales could be perceived only by demons, gods or earth spirits, the so called ‘nats’. All the same we would like to introduce them to the collectors of opium weights.

One parama-nu-my represented the smallest weight unit being one atom of a volatile substance. In order to imagine how small this unit must be can be seen from the next one which was called ‘one grain of sun dust corresponding to 36 parama-nu-myu’.

Here is the complete list:

1 parama-nu-my
1 grain of sun dust
1 grain of dust
1 louse head
1 grain of mustard seed
1 sesame grain
1 grain of rise
1 grain of abrus precatorius
1 grain of adenanthera pavorina
1 pe (1 grams)
1 mu (2 grams)
1 mat (4 grams)
1 kyat (1 tical, 16 grams)
100 kiats = 1 viss = 1600 grams

The smallest Burmese animal weights about one ‘mu’ each.

In order to simplify the explanation of the following systems of weights we define 1 tical as 16 grams. Throughout the centuries the weight represented by one tical has changed several times.
Guehler discovered that the bullet shaped tical of Sukhothai (13th / 14th century) weighed between 13 to 15 grams whereas the tical of Ayudhya (15th / 18th century) weighed between 12.5 to 15.7 grams.

Here two Thai bullet shaped opium weights, also being used as money (form of payment) :

Nowadays in Thailand one tical corresponds to 15.244 grams (= 1 Bath, still in use for gold chains).

The Burmese tical has not always been the same either. Each king introduced his own standard opium weights. One set of these gauged weights used to be kept in Parliament and everyone had to make sure that the weights used for commerce corresponded to the standards.

In 1795, Symes, who lived in Ava (Inwa) for some time, reports: “Money scales and weights are all fabricated in the capital, where they are stamped and afterwards circulated throughout the Empire; the use of any others is prohibited.”
People were allowed to use weights cast during earlier reigns provided that the weights had been controlled and if necessary adjusted to the new standards. But the greater part was melted and recast.

A report, dating from 1826, tells us that the weight units remained the same when the motif changed from hintha to toe, that is from duck to lion.

Today the British weights are still in use, although the decimal system is commonly accepted too in Burma. Nowadays, people still use animal weights at markets and homes throughout the country.

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