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Sawangboran Project – Old Craft, New Life
For centuries the women of South-East Asia had woven for every need of the family, the home, social relations and spiritual benefits, within what could be broadly called a ‘spiritual and material economy’ – not a money-based market. Modern ‘development’ has displaced most of that economy. Most weavers must work for the ‘informal’ market, for shamefully low pay.
In our ethnically Lao region of Isan (North-East Thailand), where development is rather recent, older women still grow silkworms and weave, for family and for sale. As their amazing skills and patient labour earn them a pittance, logically their juniors have turned to better paid jobs. Alarmingly, across the country, girls and women under 30 simply have not learnt a skill that used to be women’s main education and spiritual achievement. An exceptional system of traditional knowledge and cultural heritage is thus doomed.
Sawang Boran is trying to reverse the trend. While it began with women in their sixties, real equitable pay, the cultivation of excellence, the excitement of natural dyeing, and nurturance of the weavers’ ownership successfully attracted younger members. They are far happier as weavers than as factory workers or hired farm hands. Unlike many well-meaning but ephemeral projects, Sawang Boran has demonstrated its staying power and commitment to the weavers – whose daughters in their teens and twenties can now be seen helping (and thus learning from) their mothers.
We mix the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ honestly and creatively – older expertise and younger inventiveness; old natural dyes, and newly discovered ones, old recipes and new combinations; old designs and techniques, and new ways of refining and combining them; old traditional processes, newly labeled ‘organic’. The continuity is a matter of authenticity.