A Trip Through Laos: the Village Weaver Projects

November 03, 2016
Katie Malloy

2016_08_akha_19

An Akha woman carefully twisting her hair, arraigning it just right under an intricate headdress made of coins, beads and naturally-dyed fabric.

A Tai Lue woman carefully stirring fermented indigo leaves to create the perfect shade of blue.

2016_08_lanten_10-2Ten Lanten women in traditional clothing — still worn in their daily lives — brainstorming ideas on how to use their embroidery skills in new ways.

Each village distinct, different and unique — from the clothes they wear to the techniques they use to create textiles.

At Ock Pop Tok, we get the chance to work among some pretty amazing women. But that doesn’t even begin to cover all of the talented women we work with throughout the country — more than 400 artisans and counting.

Earlier this year I got the chance to join two members of Tournons Le Monde and a fellow Ock Pop Tok team members in documenting several of the Village Weaver Projects Ock Pop Tok works with in northern Laos.

The Trip

We slept on floors, ate some of the best steamed bamboo ever and survived a 2-day Mekong river boat trip complete with a day’s worth of rain and roof that was stripped straight off the boat itself.

2016_katie_muang-sing_02There were moments that took my breath away: just how green rice paddies can be at the beginning of rainy season, an Ahka woman singing their village song to us, the beautiful tapestry weaving in Bokeo province — each fabric more beautiful than the next.

I was struck by the generosity of each and every person we met. They shared their houses, their meals and their stories with us.

Laos — and its people — is truly beautiful.

The Women

The goal of the trip was to help tell the story of women artisans from the diverse array of ethnic groups in Laos (there are 49 recognized groups in this small Southeast Asian country).

2016_08_tai-dam_02We visited nine villages along the eight-day trip. Five of those have been a part of Ock Pop Tok’s Village Weaver Project. Among them there were four different ethnic groups, each with their own distinct colours, fabrics, motifs and patterns depending on their location and ethnicity.

But one thing was the same for each village: when asked why weaving was important to them, they spoke to the uniqueness of their specific ethnic group, traditions and culture. They explained that those particular styles, colours or motifs were a way to distinguish themselves from others in the country and the region. (Hear answers in their own words in Part 2 of the village videos).

They were proud. I was inspired.

Village Weaver Projects

Started in 2001, the Village Weaver Projects are a series of initiatives that provide economic opportunities for artisans in rural locations.

2016_08_tai-lue_nambak_04You can read more about the efforts and benefits to villages here: Village Weavers.

Ock Pop Tok’s Living Crafts Centre was opened as a way for every visitor to “Discover Laos Through Textiles.” You can learn the background, traditions and significance of silk weaving. You can meet the weavers, and see their skill first hand. All in hopes that you’ll join in our mission to elevate the knowledge and appreciation of Lao textiles worldwide.

But just as the Centre shows you what weaving is like here in Luang Prabang, we wanted to provide a glimpse into village life as well.  That’s where the videos came in…

We created two videos.  The first takes you on a trip throughout several of the villages we visited.  The second, just released, let’s you hear from the women in their own words.

We hope that you’ll watch, learn and share as we continue to spread the word about these amazing women.

It was an honour to meet them. Now it’s our turn to help share their story.