Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Different Type of Weaving

Tahsang Villager and His Weaving Works
Living here in Isaan, Southeast Asia in general, I am continually impressed with the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the people.  The vast majority of the people that I encounter, photograph, and interact with are not materially wealthy people. They are common people with, from a US perspective, people without many options for government assistance.  They are subsistence farmers, entertainers, unskilled labor workers, Monks, small shop owners, and craftsmen.

What the people have is a strong sense of family and community.  They are survivors; people who know how and have the skills to take advantage of what is available to them.  The people are capable of doing many things for themselves and for their families.

I have documented men and women making knives from recycled leaf springs from trucks.  Women weaving cotton as well as silk fabric.  I have on several occasions documented women weaving reeds to create colorful mats that are used for sleeping on, worshipping on, sitting on as well as eating on.  I suspect other activities are done upon the mats, but modesty has prevented me from witnessing them or photographing the activity.  I have photographed men weaving fine fishing nets under the shade of a large tree in their yard.

To feed themselves and their families, the people grow rice, garlic, corn, peanuts, sugar cane, cassava, and vegetables.  If they do not have land or money to rent land, the people hire out their labor to others.  Men as well as women harvest various plants from along the roadside for feeding themselves.  People fish the rivers, floodplains, and rivers.

There always is something going on in the villages and along the roadsides.

Lao Loum Man Making a Kong Kao
A few months ago during a visit to Tahsang Village, I had the opportunity to watch one of Duang's uncles weave special containers (kong kao) for storing cooked stick rice.  As much as the khene is associated with Lao ethnic music, the kong kao exemplifies Lao Loum domestic life.  Every Lao Loum home has at least one kong kao for storing cooked sticky rice.  Our home has 6 albeit small individual sized kong kao.  Some kong kao can be quite large - as large as a 27 quart stock pot. Quite often you will see men pushing carts filled with brooms, kong kao, and assorted other woven kitchen items for sale.

Duang's uncle like many Lao Loum men is very versitile.  He is always busy and is always interesting to follow.  On our visit to the village he was occupied weaving kong kao.  He had cut some hardwood limbs previously and dried them outside his home.  Now that the wood was properly aged and dry, he had split it into many thin as well as narrow strips.

From memory and experience, the bottom pattern is created
Underneath the thatched roof of a lean-to type addition to his home, he was seated before a rough hand made table to make some kong kao for family use.  Besides his raw materials, the table included his tools - heavy scissors, a pencil, and a heavy cane knife. Completed kong kao and a intricate fishing creel were stored on the table.

When Lao Loum people go fishing, often with had thrown nets or just with their hands, they place their catch in floating woven fishing creels to keep their catch fresh.  The creels are intricately woven objects that are kept afloat by emptied drinking water bottles that are attached on each side.

As I watched the kong kao being woven, I was impressed once again on how the design is in the head of the crafts person.  I had marveled at this before with the saht weavers as well as the fabric weavers.  The needlepoint and embroidery of the Hill Tribe peoples of Southeast Asia are also from the mind of the crafts person and are not from a blueprint or written specification.  We who live in more urban and industrialized societies often lose the sense of how creative the individual mind can be.  In the more urban and industrialized societies, our interface with creativity is often limited to an occasional exposure with art however in less "sophisticated" societies creativity is part of everyday life.

Time for a smoke break - rolling his own
After a while, Duang's uncle decided to take a smoke break.  Prior to taking a smoke, he had to roll his own cigarette.  He brought out a small plastic bag containing his loose tobacco and his cigarette papers.  With a skill that I had not witnessed since my university days, he quickly had a cigarette to enjoy.

Enjoying a few puffs

After a couple of relaxing puffs, he recommenced his work as he continued to smoke.

One of these days, I will have to learn how to do this.  I am sure that he will be pleased to try and teach me. No, not the rolling of your own cigarettes, for I have no need for that.  I would like to try to weave a kong kao and perhaps a fishing creel.  Most people are willing and happy to pass on knowledge as well as teach a skill.  Teaching others adds and strengthens our sense of community. 

Teaching others creates a lasting legacy.

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