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Bokeo weaver keeps Taileu traditions alive

" I loved weaving long skirts very much when I was a young girl. Weaving is difficult, but nothing is too difficult for me,” a weaver from the Taileu ethnic group in Bokeo province, Ms Bouaphath Thammasang, said.

This attractive motif on a Taileu-style skirt has been a top seller this year. It takes weavers two months to make a skirt with this particular design, which is difficult work.

She learnt to weave several kinds of textiles, including long skirts (sinh) from her mother, who had been taught the skills by her own mother.
Ms Bouaphath is now 55 and continues to weave and engage in other activities just as she did as a girl. When she was young, she helped out at home by tending to the cotton plants and other plants they used to dye the cotton. She was also busy after classes ended for the day and during school holidays.    
Born into a poor family in Namkeungkao village, her childhood was difficult and she had few chances to study because of the family’s poverty. She wove textiles for her own use and to give to her friends and relatives. After she got married and had a child, her life was still hard because she didn’t earn any money from weaving. She had no money of her own to add to the income her husband earned as an education official.
“In 1990 the market for cotton products was very small. I wanted to sell my handmade products at local markets but selling Taileu textiles was difficult because several families were doing the same thing,” she said.
In 1996 her luck changed when a German-run project was set up in Bokeo province. Project staff helped her to find markets in Vientiane for her handmade cotton textiles. Then she got the chance to exhibit her wares at a big festival in Vientiane which the project was supporting.
“Several foreign and Lao people were interested in buying my products at that time. The Japanese were very interested and they were my main customers,” she said.
The festival in Vientiane proved to be a turning point and several people expressed interest in buying her fabrics. Project staff advised her to make more for sale because people wanted to buy her weavings in large quantities.
She decided to sell some of her cattle and used the money to set up 10 looms at her house, which she used to weave fabric, long skirts and household items for sale. She now has 80 looms and 80 people in three villages are members of her weaving group and work for Ms Bouaphath.
“I buy the materials they need and then buy the items from them after they have finished. The 80 weavers I employ earn money from weaving as extra income for their families. I can help them to earn extra money and it’s a good way to preserve the culture of weaving and keep this Taileu tradition alive,” she said.
She explained that the Taileu have a fine weaving tradition and their textiles feature various motifs which are characteristic of this ethnic group.
Ms Bouaphath established the Lao Leu cotton group in Namkeungkao village in Tonpheung district, Bokeo province, in 1996. In 2015, the Commerce and Industry Department and other sectors recognised the quality of the group’s work and certified the weavings under the One District, One Product scheme.
Her family has also been declared a model of poverty alleviation and a model family of culture in preserving Taileu textiles.
 Ms Bouaphath doesn’t have any plans to expand her weaving to another village, but said she would like to set up a weaving centre in her home to train women so they too could help preserve the Taileu women’s weaving tradition.
She needs more time to acquire money for the project as she doesn’t have enough to build a centre at present. She would like the public and local authorities to support her in setting up a weaving centre for women in Bokeo province.
“I think the centre would create jobs for low income families. It could also be a visitor attraction for Lao people and overseas tourists who are interested in observing Taileu weaving methods,” she said.

By Phon Thikeo
(Latest Update November 21, 2017)

 

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