Archive for the ‘Laos’ Category

Lao Textiles: The Spirit of an Ancient Culture

Traditional Lao Weaving

We are very pleased that Kongthong Nanthavong-doungsy will be visiting us again this year from Vientiane, Laos and bringing along a “trunk” of exquisite woven textiles that she and her workshop, Phaeng Mai Gallery, have been working on since her visit a year ago.  This year she has concentrated on the symbolic and folkloric aspects of Lao weaving and has also adapted this rich tradition to some contemporary items as well. Kongthong’s textiles are all hand woven from natural fibers and dyed with natural dyes. She will be at the FolkArt Gallery on this coming Saturday, June 19 from 12pm to 5pm. Join us to learn more about the place weaving holds in the culture of Laos and about the rich symbolism of the designs.

Kongthong Nanthavong-doungsy

“In Laos it is an honor to be a skilled weaver. The majority of Lao women are weavers and are therefore capable of judging at a glance the quality of a textile. The ability to produce intricately woven pieces using the finest quality yarns, a variety of weaves, and the richest dyes reflects well not only on the weaver but also on her family”. ( Mary Connors, Lao Textiles and Traditions.)

The Lao people have been raising silkworms, dying silk, and weaving with many motifs and designs for at least 3000 years.

The folk tales, poems and proverbs of Lao culture are woven into the textiles. The traditions of the community, the motifs and the use of different types of textiles are transmitted orally from grandmothers and mothers as they teach young girls the techniques of weaving.

Many of these stories are woven into the sihn (the simple elegant ankle length skirt worn by Lao women) and each woman’s personal aspirations and dreams materialize as butterflies for beauty, birds for success and snakes for fertility in her textiles.

Curly Tail NagaCurly Tail Naga

The most prevalent designs are the nagas which appear in many many forms and has its origins in both Buddhist and animist tradition. The naga is the gigantic mythical serpent that lives in the Mekong river which is inseparably intertwined with the livelihood of the Lao people.

The Lao speak of their mother ngueak, a serpent goddess that had a human face and could turn into a human at will. She had powers over water, a crucial resource for growing rice and the source of life force and well-being of the people. The serpents guarded the treasures of the earth, living in caverns full of gems and crystal water and often ventured into the realms of humans, seducing and procreating with them. They are loved as ancestors of the Lao people in myths and legends.

Double Headed NagaDouble Headed Naga

In Buddhist iconography, there are serpents called nagas, the most famous of which protected the Buddha from floods at the enlightenment. The naga is the link between the realm of the gods and humans, the profound and the mundane. They can become human, protect and bring rain. The naga represents female energy, the power of nature and the earth.  (Elli Findley, Trinity College).

The Lao people show their respect to the Naga in different ways and will not hurt snakes and nagas. The people avoid wearing red clothes, red headscarves and red banded skirts when crossing a river because red is the color of the nagas crest. When a naga sees people wearing red as they cross the river, it will assume they do not respect him and will teach them a lesson.

There is a poem addressing the supernatural powers of the Ngeuk Laeng saying:

Help me to make water run uphill:

Help me to bring the boat through the rapids:

Help me to take the Ngeuk Laeng to crush the mountain.

The “candlehouse naga” is invoked in a festival to give thanks to the river and ask for its blessing. The drought naga (Ngeuk Laeng) is believed to have the power to cause storms, rain and drought.

We will try and post additional patterns and their meanings after speaking with Kongthong during her visit on Saturday.

Museum at Phaeng Mai GalleryMuseum at Phaeng Mai Gallery