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Siho and Naga – Lao Textiles

Reflecting a People’s Tradition and Change

Edeltraud Tagwerker

Siho and Naga are the most powerful mythological figures in Lao tradition manifested in their textiles. This book focuses on the history and culture of the creators of exquisitely hand woven fabrics that have attracted textile connoisseurs all over the world. The study leads not only to rare weaving techniques, patterns and natural dyes, but also to a vast ethnic diversity of people who used to live self sufficiently of their natural environment in rural areas or under royal patronage in ancient cities. Textiles have always been an integral part of the social and spiritual life of Lao people who now, after a devastating war, are challenged to come to terms with tourism, cash, and global market strategies. Siho and Naga shall raise awareness for urgent educational reform countrywide and encourage local and international preservers of Lao culture to continue their efforts to the benefit of Lao’s young generation, who eventually will grasp the value of their own textiles in order to set them against cheap imports.


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Arriving in Laos, coming from Europe and queuing up for the visa, I saw them for the first time – Lao women with the most beautiful silk wrapped around their hips, with wide shiny colourful borders above thin ankles, and silver belts around slim waists. The Korean lady beside me watching me stare at them said: “These are their Sinh; they are of pure silk, hand woven, with all sorts of patterns and stripes, of which almost each ethnic group has their own”. True, in Vientiane in hotels and offices, on motorbikes and in the market, women were wearing skirts that kept catching my eye. I was fascinated by the great vari- ety of colours and patterns, not two of these skirts seemed to be the same. In the Morning Market pile upon pile of shiny cloth was stored in small stalls, not only skirts, but all kinds of precious hand woven silk was hanging on walls and rods, scarves long and short, wide and narrow, plain or with strange patterns for a European hard to figure out what it should mean. Somehow, I was drawn to these colourful weavings; each one lured with yet another pattern of mystic figures. I realised that I was hooked on Lao textiles and wanted to find out more. Starting in various handicrafts shops, I visited galleries and weaving villages, rummaged in bookshops and found not only valuable information about Lao tex- tiles and their role in society and economy, but also a growing concern...

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