Language Group: Mon-Khmer
Project start date: Jan 2010
There are roughly 83,000 Katu spread out in villages in Salavan, Sekong and Champasak Provinces in southern Laos. A Mon-Khmer group, the Katu are believed to have migrated to Laos from southeastern India and southern China. Skilled weavers and cotton growers, the Katu weave using backstrap loom and are known for incorporating beads into their weaving. Strong animist beliefs are reflected in the abundance of nature motifs in their textiles. In addition to cotton, the Katu also weave using jute and banana tree fibres. Most Katu people live rurally and have kept their cultural traditions.
Back in 2010, by invitation of the Lao National Tourism Administration on (LNTA), our team journeyed to the south to embark on a series of trainings that would build skills and confidence in working with natural yarns and dyes. The Katu artisans in Salavan needed help reintroducing natural yarns and dyes back into the production of their textiles.
As with many communities that have little access to secure markets, the incentive to work with costly materials is low, and weavers turn to cheaper and easier options and start using synthetic materials. Many of our projects start by reintroducing natural fibres and dyes, then we buy the product and thus demonstrate that there is value in working with high quality materials.
Currently, the Katu artisans within the Village Weavers Project create a dynamic range of all natural, cotton and banana leaf fibre and beaded textiles made into handbags, scarves, cushion covers, table runners, placemats and updated, modern “sinh” or Lao pencil skirts.
Katu weavers work on backstrap tension looms. They keep the tension on the loom by sitting on the floor and extending their legs from their waist. If you practice yoga it’s like Dandasana. Wondering how the beads are incorporated into the fa? Have a look…
Culture & Lifestyle in Ban Houy Houn, as told by Mae Chan
Cassava plays an important role in Ban Houy Houn, a Katu village in the Salavan Province. Not only in the diet of the villagers but also in their livelihoods. Their main income comes from the production of cassava and from selling textile products. According to Mae Chan, an artisan from the village, some men always weave in Ban Houy Houn, where 110 families live.
Their day starts early in the morning. After a breakfast of sticky rice and some house chores, they go work in the rice fields. It is after a dinner of cassava soup and some local tea (guava or longanes leaves infused) that the artisans sit to weave. Their favorite motif is jungle vine. To them, this motif represents patience. For the jungle vine to reach the top of a tree, it will take a lot of time. Meaning, if you want to reach your goal, you will have to be patient.
They now dress in their traditional outfits only for special occasions like bacis, weddings and New Year. Their biggest celebration is called Boun Jia. Known as the harvest festival, it is celebrated in November. The villagers give thanks to their ancestors who gave them food and blessed their lives. After a big baci ceremony gathering the whole village, they feast on khaotom (steamed sticky rice filled with bean and banana), chicken and sometimes they also kill a big animal like a cow or buffalo.
And while the adults are entertained by some katu dance, the children play rubber band and marbles.