Photographer Andrew Stanbrige attends the Taungbyone Nat Festival in Burma, where ladyboys reenact the lives of two brothers slain centuries ago.
During the Bagan Dynasty nearly two centuries ago, as King Anawrahtha was returning from war against the Chinese, he rested at the village of Taungbyone. To mark his arrival, he commanded that a pagoda should be built, and that all his followers contribute one brick. Everyone participated except for his two favorite boys, whom he had taken in when they lost their father years earlier. They were so busy partying and drinking that they simply forgot, so there were two empty spaces where their tribute-bricks should have been. Upon hearing of the lapse, jealous court officials saw it as an opportunity to kill the boys. In the afterlife, they became venerated nats (spirits).
Every August, people travel to the village on the outskirts of Mandalay to pay respect to the two nats, hoping it will bring them good fortune. It is an unusual religious event, to say the least—the hard-partying boys are portrayed by whisky-swilling, cigarette smoking ladyboys who become the life of the party. Last year, photographer Andrew Stanbridge was there. And though he got a lot of whisky poured down his throat (not many foreigners attend the Taungbyone Nat Festival, so he became part of the spectacle himself), he came back with this beautiful photo essay. —Pauline Eiferman