The original and the important problem of Karen stripes

All the Karen tribes, including Sakhor and Pho have traditional clothes, which are woven by women, usually the mother of the family. The hand-woven fabric is very beautiful, with many subtle details. The stripes in the fabric are interpreted from the natural environment, and specific patterns of stripes are passed down from generation to generation. In the past, the Karen would plant the cotton they used to do their own weaving, and they would dye the yarn using natural dyes. Now, society changing, and with economic development and increasing prosperity, the Karen way of life is changing also.
Manufactured clothes from the lowlands can be bought affordably, in styles that are different from the Karen clothes, which are difficult to make, and expensive by comparison.  This is why the Karen dress culture has changed and some of the traditional stripe-patterns have begun to disappear. This is why it is important for researchers to study the traditional stripe-patterns in Karen clothes. Researchers should to collect information about this subject, including the stories about the stripe-patterns and how they have changed over time.  This research may help preserve the traditional patterns, and support craft business, which would help the new generation to learn about the patterns and preserve the culture and heritage of their elders and ancestors.      

Project objectives

  1. To study and to preserve the weaving culture and the traditional stripe-patterns in Karen dress.
  2. Support the development of new patterns.
  3. Collect the information for the younger generation of Karen to learning, as well as other interested people.

Research questions:
The name and the meaning or the origin of the stripes. 
Baan Huaykhom Moo 10 , Muang district, Chiangrai province
Baan Phamorlor, Maesariang District, Maehongsorn province
Baan Phakuk , Muang District, Maehongsorn province
Baan Maesa , Maejam district, Chiangmai province
The Idea:
The Karen communities, or hilltribes, lie in the north and the west of Thailand: in  Chiangmai, Maehongsorn, Chiangrai, Lamphang , Kanchanaburi , Ratchaburi etc.
One branch of the Karen call themselves Phakayor, which mean simple, freedom or “we live simply” referring to the Karen life because the Karen disposition is very simple and accepting, avoiding conflict.  They show this style in their traditional dress, the construction of their houses in the past, and the tales and histories they tell, about the daily life of Karen. The Karen are more skillful in paddy farming and growing crops than the Akha or Lahu. The Karen prefer to construct their house in valleys or close by a river.
The Karen community economics, community, social life is based on three main ideas:

  1. The importance of wisdom or knowledge from the past in working, taking care of natural resources, preserving culture and the tradition without techniques or means of making records.
  2. The importance of natural resources, the forest, water and soil resources. The belief of hilltribe is that they should live close to nature.  Resources are useful and have value to support they life, they should not be used for business or to keep or build wealth.
  3. The importance of community or the human resources, passing on knowledge from generation to generation.

These 3 ideas are used by the Karen to help themselves, family and community, remembering the importance of certain things and maintaining equality.  
 The documentary and information
Karen or Phakayor is one of the hilltribe communities in Thailand. They have history, culture and traditions that go back a long way. The Karen in Thailand are divided into two main groups: Sakhor and Pho.  Both have similar culture, traditions, beliefs, and processes to pass knowledge from generation to generation, but they have different languages and styles of dress.
The Karen didn’t have books or records until recently, but they had ways to teach youth through stories or songs. The parents will tell stories to children before bed or in the cold season every family will light a fire in front of the house or under the house for warmth, and members of the family and the neighbor will come to sit around the fire. At those times, the children will listen to stories from the elders. This is a method of teaching children, while lulling them to sleep. 
Most of the stories teach about correct behavior according to culture and tradition, and how to endure the kinds of work that Karen do. Nursery rhymes are told by mothers caring for children at home.  The words of songs and the music of nursery rhymes are not fixed, but the singer will to use the voice to connect word and feelings, singing easy words and short sentences which are repeated until the child falls asleep. When they work in the fields, in the farm or go to the jungle, Karen people will sing songs about nature, about the ways to protect the natural resources, or to increase the yield from the forest.  These are also part of religious ceremonies. The songs have a purpose for people, who use them to apologize for doing anything that may be harmful to nature. 
The Karen people are known as observant and close to nature. When something happens they will know how it affects other things.  Like a forest grows when a bird defecates a seed for that grows, people who have no material assets may still pass on knowledge from generation to generation. They benefit themselves and society.                  
The Karen elders do not give the explanations of the stories that they tell the children, so the children learn to think by working out the meaning for themselves. To pass the knowledge or Karen culture is similar to the way Thai people do: the sons learn, take responsibility, and practice agriculture with the father, and the daughters learns from, and takes on responsibilities from the mother.
The women have knowledge about weaving and the traditional stripe patterns from their mothers. When the harvest is finished, they will plant the cotton. The housewife spins the cotton in the morning and in the evening, and in the daytime goes to the farm to work and searches for food in the forest and find barks for dyeing. Karen women dye the thread using natural colors; men will find their equipment or provide support for the women throughout.

Therefore, the way pass knowledge is to give it to a  relative or someone in the community. Not have a training or teach it in the classroom.


Dowload full document in PDF Files here Hilltribe Weave

The clothes stripes around 70 styes
This is an example of the karen stripes

Karen stripes

Dented stripes

Lei of frlower stripes 

The 2 sight line stripes

The adapt style stripes




The research by hilltribe people.