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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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Over thousands of years Laos’ indigenous cultures have managed to conserve their essential traits while creating new forms by incorporating features from other countries such as the Chinese, Indian and Western cultures. Chinese influence first appeared in the north of the country, before gradually spreading southwards; Indian influences began in central and southern parts, before they spread north- wards with Buddhism. Western influences used to be concentrated in big cities, but now, together with global powers, they have begun gaining ground in the countryside and up in the highlands. Therefore, documentation of languages, folk- lore, textiles, music, customs, and beliefs is essential before they disappear in the minds and hearts of the people. Laos consists of near infinite varieties of features that now are about to loose their character as living conditions change continuously and very fast. Pressure comes from outsiders, tourists, and new objects, such as mobiles, cars, and houses being furnished with toilets, generators for power and TV sets. The population is chal- lenged to give up current ways of life and to become accustomed as quickly as possible to modern and more successful cultural frameworks. However, as we have seen, educational development is far behind this pace. Like many other countries in the world, Laos will not be able to develop if its young population sees no possibility to catch up with modern times. They will leave the country, some forever, others to earn enough money elsewhere to send home and provide a livelihood for their parents...

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