7 Looms a Weaving: Hill Tribe: Kayan or Karen

Country/ People: Thailand. Padaung/ Kayan

Loom: Backstrap

Border: Sample weave

ဟလို “Mingalabar”  Pronounced "ming-gah-lah-bahr" /     Hello in Burmese (not Karan)

Background: One of the largest ethnic hill tribe groups, comprising almost half of all hill tribe peoples, is the Karen or Kayan tribe, with more than 300,000 living in Thailand. They came as refugees from Myanmar (Burma). There are four sub groups, each with their own language and traditional attire.  By far the most recognizable of the Karen sub-groups is the Padaung, often call the “long-neck tribe.”  Padaung women wear coils of brass round their necks, and some also wear metal rings on their ankles and lower legs.  An ancient southeast Asian legend claims the brass rings protect women from tiger attacks, since the wild animals go for the neck and ankles of their victims. As Katie Foote discusses in the reference below, Ethical Travel: Should You Visit Thailand’s Long Neck Women Villages, it may seem intrusive and even exploitive to visit these hill tribes. Clearly, if you do go, as I did, you must do some research first and find responsible avenues, where traditional customs are protected and women are provided welcomed economic opportunities. I met the woman pictured here in Thailand, where she shared her her skill, smile and customs with us. 

Loom: Karen women traditionally use a back-strap loom to create weavings using cotton treads and natural dyes. I am particularly fond of the Padaung weaving in a kind of zig-zag pattern, created with incredibly fine treads that are not tightly woven into the patten (see image below). Many of the hill tribes also weave with beautiful, shimmering Thai silk. Each of the ethnic tribes has a unique variation  on traditional designs and use of color. In many instances, weaving has become a profitable route to independent income, replacing earlier opium growing.

Border: This design is copied from a hand-woven, silk scarf I purchased from the woman I have pictured in the image. She was so friendly, and we seem to communicate even though we didn’t speak each other’s language.  She agreed to having her photo taken, as she was rightly proud of her handiwork.



References and Links:

·       Foote, Katie, Ethical Travel: Should You Visit Thailand’s Long Neck Women Villages? 9/12/18 (https://epicureandculture.com/thailand-long-neck-women/)·       Hill Tribes of Thailand.https://www.challengesabroad.com.au/blog/the-hill-tribes-of-thailand/·       Hill Tribe Weaving Class in Chiang Mai. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOzkwZg5_kE·       Thailand weaves colorful future for ethnic hill tribes through textiles. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/asia/thailand-doi-tung-chiang-rai-weaves-for-ethnic-hill-tribes-1311306

·       Visiting a Long Neck Tribe Ethically. https://travellingjezebel.com/should-you-visit-a-long-neck-hill-tribe-in-thailand/


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The Art and Writing of Barbara Rizza Mellin