Language Group: Tai Lue
Province: Luang Prabang, Bokeo, Oudomxay
Project start date: 2003
It was still the early 2000s and the beginnings of the Village Weavers Project when we heard about a village in the Luang Prabang Province producing high quality cotton and amazing indigo. On arrival it was instantly apparent that the journey was going to be worth it. If you ever wondered what a Tai Lue village looks like, Ban Nayang is worth the detour. The village, set in a lush river valley is a model of traditional cultural life. The elegant stilted houses stood filled with looms, cotton ready for spinning spilled out of baskets and colourful yarns dried in the sun.
The Tai Lue have one of the oldest recorded histories, their first kingdom being recorded in 1180. The Tai Lue people have many communities throughout Laos and Thailand, often as farmers living in simple stilt houses. Tai Lue women wear long colourful sinhs and typically wear their long black hair done up in a fan-like bun on top of their heads. They are well known for their ornate motifs woven into silk and cotton textiles.
According to Paa Vanhthong, who we have been working with since 2003 in Ban Nayang, Tai Lue patterns are quite similar to Lao Loum — horse, elephant, star, Dok Chan (flower), swan, etc.
From the Tai Lue, we buy handspun cotton, fabric by the meter, wall hangings, scarves, shawls and skirts, among other things.
The weavers needed product diversity training and access to markets. This is where we came in… We partnered with the local Department of Trade and Industry and 15 years later still have a thriving partnership. Ban Nayang is now a vibrant cotton weaving village with its products popular with hotels and businesses. Because their story is inspiring for others to hear, Ock Pop Tok has taken the weavers of Nayang to other provinces, and even as far as Peru.
Ban Houeyhok is a Tai Lue village in Houn District, Oudomxay Province. There are about 138 Families. 49 are Tai Lue and 89 Khmu. The weaving techniques have been preserved and the cultural traditions and lifestyle of the village protected. They have land to cultivate cotton, enough even to export, but had stopped producing cotton, because they didn’t have access to markets. This changed through our partnership. They have started producing cotton again, which we buy from them for our weaving studio in Luang Prabang.
They are highly skilled weavers and have already mastered many traditional patterns and techniques such as Chok, Louang and Nam Lai but also natural dyeing.
Watch this video for a better idea of the production process in Ban Houeyhok.
This activity was supported by ECL Project which is funded by the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF). EIF is an Aid for Trade partnership in action for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Operational since 2009, the EIF is a multi-donor program that supports the LDCs to become more active players in the global trading system by helping them tackle supply-side constraints to trade.
ECL Project intends to promote private sector-led economic growth in the least developed Northern Region of the country in response to the Government’s eight National Socio-Economic Development Plan (NSEDP). The project consists of three components: Improvement of the local business environment, Enhancement of productivity and exports of critical sectors, and project management.
Culture & Lifestyle in Ban Houeyhok, as told to us by Mrs. Kongsy
In Ban Houeyhok, after their breakfast of rice and before they leave for the rice farm, the artisans do some weaving. And after a day of farming with their husbands, after dinner, they do the spinning. Their main source of income comes from selling yellow corn and soy bean and textile products. Some families also grow and sell vegetables.
Besides farming, the men take care of the animals — cows and buffalos –, go fishing and hunting for wild animals, looking for food for the family. They also love their traditional pon sin (minced pork meat and eggplants, like a soup) and jeo nam puk (sour lettuce). Lao Lao (rice whiskey) is their drink of choice when there is a celebration.
Every day, they dress in a more western way even if some women still wear the traditional sinh with a western style shirt. They will wear their traditional outfits only for special events, like Tai Tue New Year which is celebrated in May. They give thanks to the ancestors, before starting the farming season.
During the celebrations, they listen to lao music and khup lue, traditional Tai Lue songs. They sing and dance while the kids play spinning top games and tug of war. Always in good spirits.
The Lao National Tourism Administration(LNTA) hired the Ock Pop Tok team to develop handicrafts in their target tourism development villages. The first part of the training is to demonstrate a demand for handspun cotton. The Tai Lue are experts in cotton growing but skills were waning due to lack of viable options for selling their products. We led natural dye training programs followed by product diversity development.
The fruits of these labours can be seen in items such as cotton elephants from Sayabouly, tapestry love gifts and rugs from Oudomxai or bags and skirts with colourful motifs from Bokeo.
The local tourism offices sell their products and often a local market place is created for visiting tourists to stop and support their work through purchases. As you travel around Laos, make a point of stopping in at the local tourism offices to see what activities are being promoted and how you can support the production of local handicrafts.
Mrs. Boua Kieo, an artisan from Muang Khua, in Phongsaly, has been working with Ock Pop Tok and communities of Lue weavers for many years. The Tai Lue of Luang Namtha and Phongsaly are well known for their weaving skills especially tapestry. The weavers are highly skilled but their remote locations always made accessing new markets difficult.
Mrs. Boua Kieo managed to overcome this difficulty by trading and designing textiles that bring renewed income to the villages. Through our collaboration with Boua Kieo we have developed traditional designs with subtle adaptations. Look out for bright cotton skirts, beads and cushion covers that showcase the east meets west philosophy of Ock Pop Tok.
Ban Sinoudom is a TaiLue village in Luang Namtha District, Luang Namtha Province. There are about 69 Families; 54 TaiLue and 15 Khmu. Ban Sinoudom is different from TaiLue villages in Oudomxay province. This village is located on the border between Luang Namtha province and Oudomxay Province. Ban Sinoudom preserved their weaving traditions. They have mastered many weaving techniques such as: Sinh Nam Lai (tapestry), Chok and Kit (supplementary weft) for their own use and to sell in order to gain some extra income for their families.
Traders usually buy from their village to export to Thailand. Most of the raw materials purchased from the market is imported. When we started working with them, we encouraged them to use local raw materials for production. The artisans are very much interested in cultivating cotton, cotton spinning and natural dyeing.
A project in collaboration with the EIF (Enhanced Integrated Framework) under the aegis of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry – Lao PDR. Funded by Trade for Development ECL (Project on Promotion of Export Competitiveness and Sustainability Support to Public-Private Dialogue in Northern Lao)
Culture & Lifestyle in Ban Sinoudom, as told to us by Mrs. Bouddy
Ban Sinoudom is only an hour drive from Luang Namtha City. The main source of income for the families in the village comes from rubber. In Luang Namtha a lot of families are engaged in this business. Plus selling textile products. And some families also do some bamboo weaving. Watch this video to learn more about the production process in Ban Sinoudoum.
This village does not have any specific traditional outfit, so for special occasions, the women wear sinhs and Lao style jackets. The rest of the time, some women dress in western outfits while some still wear Tai Lue sinhs, but with western shirts.
The biggest event they celebrate is Boun Pha Vet, at the end of January. It’s the full moon of the third month of the Lao calendar. People bring offerings to the temple for their ancestors who have passed away. Everyone in the village gathers and walks together to the temple with their offerings.
Or Lam (stew) is their traditional food but they are also particularly fond of sundried meat with banana flowers. When they want to relax, they go for a picnic by the river and during the picnic, they sing Tai Lue songs called Khup Toum Tai Lue while the children either try to get as many tamarind seeds as possible in a whole in the ground using only one finger or play rubber band.
The Tai Lue of the Nam Ou and Tha waterways are masters of the indigo and stick lack dyes (blue & red respectively). Back in the early days, we were looking to expand our repertoire of natural dyes and had heard of a village in Nam Bak district, Ban Nayang that was producing naturally dyed cotton fabric.
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