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Date published: Wednesday, 28 August 2013 14:15
Date modified: Friday, 27 September 2013 14:42


Continuity of Weaving with the Challenges of Social Changes

Weaving may refer to the method of tying threads and the production of a kind of fabric in the public’s perception. But on the contrary, weaving goes beyond such definitions, especially in Surin province. Surin community members have been weaving as part of everyday life through the generations with influences from Khmer culture. The glory of Surin textiles with their distinctive patterns is the result of cultural exchange and social networks extending across the region. Long threads of fabric do not only represent the long story of Surin textiles, but also are a reflection of how the inhabitants of the area have used them in various ways and as a integral aspect of a whole way of life.

Weaving and textiles have mirrored a way of life based on self-sufficiency, using resources available from the natural environment. Young women were normally socialized and taught to weave by their mothers or grandmothers. They learned the techniques of tying and dyeing the warp and local wisdom related to feeding and caring for silk worms as one of their main tasks and contributions to the family household. This handicraft has played a primary role in the domestic realm and as “family heritage”. It also has been an important part of the spiritual sphere as one of the worshipped objects in ritual ceremonies, for example, Bai Sri and ordination. Also, the existence and continuity of Surin textiles is a way of displaying identity in public spaces through the evolution and development of patterns, especially “Hole”. Much pride comes from wearing textiles made by hand and that symbolize a strong cultural heritage.

The powerful forces of capitalism, materialism, and globalization, however, have devalued the role of weaving, making it seem like an out of date mode of production and source of income. Young, new generations of women have tended to ignore weaving and acknowledge the need for official, academic qualifications for achieving success in life. The story of worms and their death seem ignorant and useless. To some, feeding and caring for worms as babies are only legends and looms are a technology of the past.

But worms have neither died nor disappeared from Surin memory. Attempts to revive raising silk worms and weaving through significant events like APEC and support from the Queen’s Foundation in addition to the growth of tourism and economic development have enhanced the value and meanings of worms and weaving. Moreover, weavers are no longer only elderly females but also members of the younger generations and males. ‘The voice of worms’ has been heard and been reborn into the form of silk, which not only responds to the needs of the market and desires of prosperous customers but also fulfills social and cultural needs of the local community. Raising silk worms and natural dyeing are also examples of “the green concept” or an environmentally friendly and sustainable way of life that is so important today.

The traditional daily life of Surin can be enhanced and protected through the production of textiles. The transmission and safeguarding of this heritage can take place in a bottom-up way and does not necessarily require listing or nomination under the 2003 UNESCO Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Sites of Natural Dyeing

"I remember that my grandmother Sa-um used to go to the forest for days at a time to collect plants for dyeing." Suvanna Yodrak

Natural methods for dyeing silk are used in homes and weaving centers in Natang, Tha Sawang, and other villages. The endurance of natural dyeing is directly related to the on-going popularity of the Khmer hol pattern, known as the “queen of Surin silk.” Hol requires three natural colors: red from lac, blue from indigo, and yellow from Garcinia dulcis. Many taboos and spiritual beliefs are associated with all aspects of the dyeing process and the colors produced. For example, harsh words should not be spoken while dyeing and supernatural forces, especially related to lac, must be respected. Today, commercially dyed silk thread is also popular because of the colors available and how it saves time.

Community Economy

The Tampoung Weaving Center

“Production in the center does not interfere with weaving at home.” Prapanee Poonchaliew

The Tampoung Weaving Center was created in 2003 through support from provincial and district level governments. Today, about 50 women are members of the collective. Weavers can weave at the center full- or part-time and make a living from weaving. Silk from the center is distributed and promoted through the Queen’s SUPPORT Foundation in Bangkok. Weavers also weave in their homes where more traditional style looms and methods of weaving and dyeing are used. The center has introduced commercial dyes, threads, and the “flying shuttle” loom for increasing production. This type of loom limits the weaving of intricate designs common in the past, but weavers find other ways to be creative and to make attractive designs that appeal to both local and outside consumers.

Local Use

Nongyao's Home: A Space of Transmission

“I weave from my heart, not as a business.” Nongyao Songwichaa

Nongyao Songwichaa is a 56-year-old widow and former village head who sees w

eaving silk as a way for women to make a livelihood and not have to leave their village to find work. To her, weaving both reflects local social and family values and helps to maintain them. Nongyao has started several local initiatives to promote and safeguard weaving as well as for community development and women’s empowerment. She helped make weaving part of school curriculum and created an outdoor Learning Center where students learn how to be self-sufficient by growing fruits and vegetables and raising chickens. They also study local arts and crafts like weaving. Nongyao’s house in Natang village is a hub of activity where women come together to weave, spin, dye, and lovingly care for the silk worms.

Silk & Weaving as Heritage

Silk—from raising the delicate worms to dyeing and weaving splendid cloth—is a big part of Surin moradok (heritage).  Silk represents people’s connection to the natural world; expert knowledge and skills passed down from mother to daughter; the blending of cultural influences; and the hope of a prosperous future. The hol pattern, natural dyeing, and mai noi are distinctive qualities of Surin silk. Weaving and wearing silk is a source of pride for men and women and strong cultural values and identity. As a cherished heirloom exchanged between families at marriage or a work of art worn by a son at his ordination, silk links the material and spiritual worlds and the generations.