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Tai Dam (Black Tai)
We love these ladies! Muang Sing is off the beaten path and takes some effort (and time) to get to for anyone visiting Laos. But ever since we visited Muang Sing for the first time in January 2000 itís become one of our favorite places to visit. The easiest and fastest way, especially now (March 2008) since theyíve just reopened the airport in Luang Namtha, is to fly from Vientiane to Luang Namtha (50 minutes) and then take a bus or truck/taxi to Muang Sing, about a two hour drive.
We first went to Muang Sing because we met a Mien woman demonstrating Mien embroidery at a handicrafts show in Vientiane and she told us that she lived just outside of Muang Sing and that she was the leader of a Mien Womenís Cooperative. Peter had Mien students in his classes in California and so was eager to visit a Mien village and learn more about their culture and learn more about the Mien Womenís Cooperative. And for more of the Mien story just go to the Mien section on our site.
But itís here we want to tell the store of these incredible, creative and tenacious Tai Dam women. A lot of the Tai Dam who live in Muang Sing have moved here from the province of Phongsaly because they wanted easier access to markets and believe it or not, Muang Sing, even as remote as it is, has better market access than in the more remote and less traveled Phongsaly. The Tai Dam, along with the Tai Daeng, are noted weavers in Laos and here in Muang Sing they are primarily weaving cotton scarves.
Because back in 2000 there wasnít a practical market area to sell to foreigners, the Tai Dam women adopted a strategy of walking the streets and when seeing foreigners, immediately surrounded them. They would then take out their scarves and if you looked at one you soon found yourself literally draped with scarves. It was all very colorful, but it could be confusing and a little frustrating to sort them all out and make a rational decision about what you wanted to buy. But for these women it was all in fun, with just a little desperation tossed in, because they were often the breadwinners for their families and the tourists who came to Muang Sing, usually backpacking types, didnít buy a lot.
We have photos in this photo gallery for a post we wrote in our blog that has great photos of a tourist surrounded by the "proactive" Tai Dam women!
The Tai Dam women in Muang Sing primarily weave three types of cotton scarves to sell in the market. The ones we love the best are naturally dyed in a beautiful range of pastel colors that remind us of an early morning sunrise. They also have some of the same size, but using gaudy, bright chemical dyes that we donít sell. And the third type of scarf is more traditional ceremonial scarf and larger, usually red in color. The weaving is not sophisticated and complex, but we think all the scarves still have an irresistible charm and we can sell them for a much lower price than for woven silk scarves with more discontinuous supplementary weft weaving.
The last time we were in Muang Sing was in the summer of 2006. We found it very sad because the quality and selection of textiles was minimal. From talking to these women their discouragement was evident. They came to Muang Sing because they thought they would have an opportunity to market and sell their textiles, but the reality is that a majority of the tourists who come are backpacker types who donít want to buy a lot, maybe just one item as a souvenir and theyíve sold much less than they anticipated. And so over the years their enthusiasm has greatly diminished and when we visited Muang Sing last, we didnít see the quality and creativity we saw six years ago.
What can you do to help? Buy our scarves! And if we sell enough we are eager and ready to go back to Muang Sing and place more orders. The scarves are relatively inexpensive and besides wearing them as a scarf, there are all sorts of decorating possibilities. Back in 2001 to 2003 we placed several orders with them for hundreds of scarves, the first time they had ever had anyone place an order with them. It was an exciting time for them and for us, and we were not disappointed with the quality. And as an added bonus the status of the women in the community sky-rocketed when everyone saw the value we place on their weaving abilities and the textiles they produced. Will it happen again?