An Excerpt from THE LION AND THE SUN by Maurice D. Sassoon
A Pwe is an open air performance, highlighted by ritual melodies and consecrated to the tree spirits, known as the Thirty-seven Nats, featuring a beautiful dancer in a spectacular attire. A cylindrical coil of hair flows down the side of the dancer’s face from the top of her head. She appears alluring, as she keeps dancing, Her long split skirt, together with her well-rehearsed gestures, accentuate the tell-tale expression on her face, as she keeps turning and wheeling around in perfect rhythm with the orchestra, consisting of a circle of little gongs, differing in size and tone, struck by a man, sitting in the center of the circle. There are drums that sound high-pitched and an oboe. playing a piercing melody, accompanying the gongs and the drums. A bamboo clapper, performed by one of the members of the orchestra, beats in perfect rhythm with the music and dance.
At regular intervals, there are clowns that appear, exercising their prerogative to make good-humored remarks about the dancer, as well as joke about certain spectators, selected at random. Those selected, including the dancer, appear unaffected by the banter, and, instead, cheer the clowns, encouraging them to continue.
After having rested for a while, the dancer reappears and continues performing her rhythmic dances, while the frenzied music of the orchestra continues without abating.
Pwes are usually organized by a pagoda trustee, or a wealthy member of the community, and are free of charge.