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Here at Laos Essential Artistry we are currently featuring two galleries of textiles made by the Hmong in Laos. Hmong Spirit People Cloths and Hmong Story Cloths .
Currently there are about 500,000 Hmong in Laos out of a total population of 6.5 million.
The truth is that a large majority of the Hmong in Laos are eeking out an existence (subsistence farming) just like a large majority of all the ethnic groups. Life is not easy in Laos, and in the ten years I’ve been going to Laos I’ve known more people who have died in Laos than I have here in the states during my entire life. Life is getting better in Laos, but for a people like the Hmong it means adapting to new changes, like relocating from remote mountain tops to villages closer to the lowland with easier access to markets and schools. If you talk to the Hmong who have been relocated, there is a lot they miss about living in the mountains, but everyone agrees, just knowing that the children have a better chance of getting a decent education, makes the change more worthwhile, difficult, but at least now they have hope…
In this photo, one of our favorites, you can see four young Hmong girls all dressed up for Hmong New Years celebration in Huaphan Province. Their lives are changing too, and you can see that instead of wearing the traditional hemp Blue Hmong skirt that would have been batiked, appliquéd and embroidered, they are wearing skirts made in China with a Blue Hmong skirt pattern. They are pretty and much lighter to wear, but…? It seems that fewer of the Hmong have the time now to do the embroidery. The pace of life in Laos has quickened too.
In the outstanding book Peoples of the Golden Triangle, the authors, Paul and Elaine Lewis write, “A tiny needle, strands of bright thread, lengths of vari-colored cloth, and the genius of a Hmong woman – these are the ingredients of some of the most exquisite needlework to be found anywhere.”
We love when they say “genius of a Hmong woman” because it’s so true, and it’s true for all the talented women whose textiles we feature here at Laos Essential Artistry.
Peter can remember when he was teaching back in the early late 1980’s and early 1990’s and Hmong women in California were still teaching their daughters how to embroider. But now it’s the exception, not the rule. But at least they attempted to keep the tradition going and their daughters still have the awareness of how embroidery (paj ntaub) is important in their culture, even if they don’t embroider themselves. But we have never met a Lao girl whose mother has taught her to weave. Of course there is the problem of coming up with a loom, a much bigger hurdle the Lao have to face, but it could be done and we wonder if there are any Lao communities or wats where there is a loom and Lao girls are offered a chance to learn weaving???