Study tour: Sewing and weaving clothes

The striped clothes are from people who made them for themselves. Their meaning for the tribe includes the valuable spirit and prestige of the tribe to show the means that the ancestors relay by the handicrafts product.


The hill tribe museum (hilltribe.org) aims to realize and see the importance of the hill tribe clothes stripes. This project organized children who live in HuayMaeSai village, Thambon Maeyao, Muang district, Chiangrai province to go on a study tour to learn about sewing clothes stripes at Pravisutthivong Catholic Center, Thambon Phongngam, Maesai district, Chiangrai. The main objective of this study tour was to take all the children to learn the method of weaving of other Akha people who live in other villages. The children could learn the systems of weaving and inspire themselves to continue to practice the way of Akha weaving.

Late in the morning of 4 February 2006 , two cars took the hill tribe staff and the children to go to Maesai, the destination of the study tour. Around 20 kilometers before Maesai, we turned to visit Pravisutthivong catholic center, the first place that we learned the way of weaving.
This center is a place for Akha children to live; the center houses adults and children. Children who live here study outside in the government school, and when they finish for the day, they sew and weave clothes and design new stripes, and receive a little income from this work. Adults who did not attend school study a vocation in the center such as weaving or designing the products that they sell in the center.

The first impression the children receive when they cross to the center is of the Akha's stripes that are shown on the table before you go through the center. A teacher named Noi or Suwaraporn Yindeengam, raised a question, asking us if all the clothes stripes were Akha, and whether the children knew their names and meanings. Most of the children knew the clothes stripes because their mothers taught them to sew the stripes but did not know the stripe's meaning.


 

This study tour inspired the children to realize the value of the Akha tribe's clothes stripes, as they saw children in this center bring the stripes that they sew everywhere they go, like chatting under a tree, playing etc., and include the knowledge from Teacher Noi, who has worked with the Akha people for around 30 years, and can communicate in Akha language.

“A hill tribe stripes are not accordance with the market but encourage the children to remember the old style, and the goodness from the ancestors, to acknowledge the value and feel proud of themselves. The children are so proud because they can sew and have a little income but they must know the meaning or the root of the stripes also. The stripes show the prestige of the hill tribe if the children can explain about the stripes, and the buyer will also be proud also because they have knowledge and think about the value of the things that they buy”

Teacher Noi told us about the local children who live close the center to come to learn about Akha stripe and sell it with the center also. The local children did not have knowledge about the Akha tribe, but Akha children had an ancestor to tell about the root of their tribe from generation to generation. After the children finished they saw products that were made by children who live in the center, such as the product from housekeeper group like a bag, shirt, pillow etc.


“Since I was born, I've never heard the stories like this” said a girl named Yaowalak Chermuer from Baan Aja who was interested in the stories from Teacher Noi. The same child from Jalae said “I can sew but do not know the meaning and also never asked my mother, when I go back, I will ask and learn more about this from my mother”


I told Teacher Noi about the children's feelings. She was very impressed because all the children did not go to school yet. At this age, we can encourage them to see the value of the hill tribe culture. Anna Armo, a girl from Baan Aja said “Amazing, the rural people are interested in a hill tribe product though the hill tribe children are not interested” I told this to teacher Noi heard her say something in Akha language. Anna did not reply but I hope she will take interest in Akha values much more.

All the children and the adults from Mirror left from Maesai to go to Chiangsan. We went to see the clothes weaving at PhatorLaanna Chiangsan Museum in Prathatphagao temple. This museum was built with cooperation from the villagers and the monks. The museum has 2 floors, and on the second floor is a display of hill tribe weaving stripes of: Tailuer, Tai yuan, a loom, a Tung, accessories for a religious ceremony, a demonstration of a woman lying near an open fire as well as sanitations, and a Laanna kitchen. Under the building was a housekeeper group weaving clothes in a small factory and a building to show these products in.

By the afternoon, the children were unable to concentrate. They have no knowledge about other hill tribes but at least they know that all the hill tribes have old traditions and handicrafts. The children saw the Laanna people who still maintain their practices and learnt about their ancestor's weaving from the learning center to pass onto the next generation and outsiders.


Two hours at Pravisutthivong Catholic center and more than 1 hour at Phatorlaanna museum Chiangsan were not enough for us to reach the objective but at least the children have learnt new things from teacher Noi and seen another hill tribe still practicing and continueing the things that their ancestors passed from generation to generation. I hope this study tour makes the children become interested about hill tribe weaving.