Exploring the textile arts of Southeast Asia are a great entry point to understanding the culture and traditions of its peoples. There are an amazing fifty recognized ethnic groups present in the land-locked country of Laos (pronounced Lao) which has just under eight million people. Though Vientiane the dreamy capital of Laos is abound with galleries and shops of varying price-range that sell original Laotian textiles, both antique and contemporary. Few of them are able to provide much more than the basic information on the artisans and ethnic groups that produce the textiles, let along what the textiles represent.
Quite by accident I heard of a unique textile museum a little out of the “city-centre” and decided to make a special visit there on my last full day in the country. The Lao Textile Centre is in a suburban setting but easy taxi ride from the hotels bordering the Mekong River. The Museum consists of a collection of buildings including a classic Lao house on stilts that houses the collection and wooden granaries. The museum shop is in another building.
The museum explains examples of sericulture with a stress on the native species of caterpillar and mulberry plants that distinguish Laotion silk production such as Paper Mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera). The lady at the museum demonstrates the process of unravelling the silk thread, spinning and traditionally treating it with various organic elements such as coconut and banana ash. She also shows the various organic leaves, barks fruit and even roots that produced various coloured dyes. The most interesting is the elaborate process for making indigo blue. The same woman continues the process by demonstrating weaving on a loom. The most sophisticated is the Mat Mi style of patterns which is a form of Ikat where the pattern is prepared on the thread prior to weaving. Examples of textiles and costumes from several of the ethnic groups are shown alongside various artefacts of daily life.
The Lao Textile Museum was the first private sector museum opened in Laos in 2003 and is run by the two Sisane sisters who owned the land on which it stands. The family assisted many women refugees from the countryside during the Indochina War before 1975 and helped them to establish their own weaving businesses and marketing their products. The hospitality of the Sisane family for visitors is evident in their visitor book. Much in Laos relies on outside aid (Chinese, Japanese, South Korean, German and Canadian) but the private sector needs support too and the museum needs public support to last another twenty years.
Location: Lao Textile Museum, Ban Nongtha Tai, Chanthoury District, Vientiene, Laos.
Admission: 30,000 kip.
Opening Hours: Summer 09:00-16:00 daily.
Telephone: +856 21 563 126/+856 21 213 467.
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Hailing from Mombasa, Kenya. Cliff's research interests began in 1982 when while working in “the Gulf” when he first travelled Asia following the routes of the epic voyages of the Fifteenth century Chinese admiral Zheng He. He later graduated with a BA(Hons) in Geography with Asian Studies in Northern Ireland. After a career in tourism Cliff became a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). He returned to historical research in 2001 on a variety of themes leading to an exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society on the Bombay Africans (2007) and is regarded as the world specialist on the subject. Cliff was Honorary Research Assistant to Royal Holloway's Geography Department (2011-2014) and Visiting Research Assistant to Dalian Maritime University, China (2011-2015). He was researcher-curator on the Bait-Jelmood Museum, Qatar (2013-2016) and research-curator for the National Museum of Qatar, specialising in the Portuguese presence in the Indian Ocean (2016-2018). He is presently distance-working on the African collection of the Museum of Anthropology at Vancouver, Canada. Since 2016 Pereira is Visiting Research Assistant at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). He describes himself as a historical geographer and his life interest in Zheng He has led to talks and lectures on the subject in China, Malaysia, Canada, the UK and on the cruise liner Silver Muse. He has numerous papers and chapters in publications around the world.