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Silk and Rice
Specialisation in the modern world makes us forget that traditional life is rooted in the complexity of interlocking natural and cultural processes. Friends, customers, and website visitors of Sawang Boran, may be forgiven for thinking of us as weavers and only weavers – it has taken me four years to fully realise that our artisans are also farmers.
It is in fact impossible to separate their identity as weavers from their identity as farmers.
Natural cycles govern the patterns of their lives. When the silkworms have finished weaving their cocoons and are ready to become moths, the artisans have a small window of only one or two days to extract the silk filament. You will not get them to do anything else at that time!
Likewise, when the paddy is ripe, everybody is out in the fields harvesting – here too, there is a window of time that must not be missed. All able-bodied villagers must be out there – this year, our village had a shortage of people (it seems our Bangkok migrants did not, as they would usually, come up to help out with the harvest), and there were no extra hands to hire, so even the sick were out there with their scythes.
Even this foreigner – the last person the villagers would expect to see wielding a scythe – joined in. I had not dared to, in previous years, fearing my incompetence and physical limitations. But you get the hang of it pretty quickly, and while I do admit there was a bit of back pain, it certainly was not the back-breaking ordeal I had expected. In fact, I was grateful for the opportunity to feel for myself, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, the deep connection between the plant and its people. Those harvesting days were days of profound joy – I look forward to the next round! And now Mae Phosop, the ancient spirit or goddess of Rice of this land, has become something real for me, even though she seems to be losing ground in the minds of her own people when they switch to modern farming methods and machines…
The 2010 harvest in our usually arid region was particularly plentiful as we had enjoyed a lot of rain (without the floods suffered elsewhere). So the artisans were away from their looms and silkworms for two months instead of under a month… and some of them are still out in the fields doing cassava and sugarcane.
This could be seen as a major problem from the point of view of a silk business, right? I prefer to view this as an asset, possibly the deepest guarantee that the silks made by Sawang Boran artisans are indeed authentic in spirit – made by people who are governed by the cycles of nature, from which they unconsciously derive their specific inspiration. Thus the yarn they fashion and the weavings they imagine are not just ‘products’ – they are capable of speaking the language of life.