| || |
The weaving community of Nongbouathong Tai is located in the northeast section of Vientiane bordering Phaeng Mai Gallery. The village is a 10 minute drive from the city center with a population of around 200, with about 30 families and women outnumbering men about three to one. So can you guess what the main enterprise in this village is?
In 1985, the current residents began moving to the weaving section of Nongbouatong Tai from the Sam Neua area in Houaphan province in the northeast of Laos, an area traditionally known as the heart and soul of Lao weaving. With little access to capital and formal education, the residents who moved to Nongbouatong have continued their traditional weaving and over time, other family members have joined them as weavers.
Migration in Laos, and more specifically from Houaphan Province, has been caused by several reasons, a history of political turmoil, colonial exploitation, devastating war, and economic isolation. Particularly in the Houaphan Province, villagers were heavily bombed and involved in many of the battles for independence that took place in the area. While this experience was devastating for many residents, it also gave Houaphan villagers a long history and tradition of shared sacrifice and struggle. This strong history of working together and helping each other is exhibited in a strong sense of community solidarity in Nongbouatong.
In Nongbouatong informal kinship networks have managed to create economic opportunities, create some sense of institutional security, and have lessened some of the risk and costs that come with migrating. Although weavers from the Sam Neua province have the reputation for weaving some of Laos’s finest traditional textiles, they have had limited access to urban markets and capital for production in this remote province. The opportunity to migrate near an urban city and form cooperatives expands a woman’s potential to market and produce her textiles. The informal social networks and weaving cooperatives in Nongbouatong have been of some aid to the women involved in the weaving production process and weaving seems to be the most consistent form of employment within the Nongbouatong community.
We first discovered Nongbouatong seven years ago and now work with a family of weavers to produce our Nok Hong Kham line of silk scarves and sins. A majority of the weavers in Nongbouatong are Tai Daeng and are accomplished weavers. We highly recommend anyone visiting Laos, and especially if you go to Phaeng Mai, to walk through the opening in the wall behind the weavers and then, lo and behold, you’re in the “weaving village” of Nongbouatong. Nongbouatong is very, very informal and usually when the weavers see tourists walking through, they’ll gather their textiles and bring them out to show or drape/hang on whatever’s convenient for an informal “gallery show.” You need to take your time and really inspect the textiles as the quality can vary, and bargaining is encouraged. Most of the weavers can’t speak English so you’ll need to know some rudimentary Lao. And if you have the “time” and see something you like, you can order more, or have a textile custom woven for you to your own specifications, which can be very exciting. The weavers in Nongbouatong have been encouraged to work more cooperatively together to market Nongbouatong to tourists as a model weaving village, but so far, families have tended to work independently and even when visiting Phaeng Mai, you might not even notice that Nongbouatong existed.
Every time we visit, we see different textiles being woven, and usually whatever is in vogue at the Morning Market, they’re weaving at Nongbouatong. Here at Laos Essential Artistry, besides our Nok Hong Kham line of silk scarves and sinhs, we offer ikat sinh fabric, our traditional Tai Daeng silk scarves, and some market scarves. Enjoy!