Laos and Weaving, an inseparable story
There are some countries you visit and in which traditions are hardly hidden. While crossing Laos from Boten (border with China) to Luang Prabang, we discovered a rural Laos. On our way to meet local families, we crossed hilly landscapes, with small and bigger rivers and a strong tropical green forest.
If our stops rapidly put us in front of Lao philosophy (BoPenyang – No problem 🙂 ), we specifically noticed the architecture of houses: in wood / crack, a bit raised, no too much windows. Looks like life in Laos is mainly outside and not inside home. But what specifically took our attention was: THE WEAVING LOOM.
Weaving is one of the most important elements in the Lao lifestyle, a tradition going through generations. Indeed, women can only get married when they are able to create clothes and house clothes for the future family. In the opposite, men can become husband and father when they know how to build a bamboo house and all kind of accessories (made from bamboo).
Weaving loom: a carrier for traditions
Impressed and captivated by the symbol of this tool but also for the incredible complex system, we stopped over to admire women working on their material, a new born often hanging on the back.
Created in 2002 by 2 women: one from Laos, the second from UK, this organization has developed since 15 years with the strong idea to defend and protect Lao tradition and give it an important place in the economic boom of Luang Prabang region.
Ock Pok Tok (which means literally East meets West) provides weaving classes, from half day to 3 intense days. Guided by a weaving master, the student realizes a small table clothes in silk for the shortest lesson. I loved to see it like a beautiful piece of life…. Incomprehensible interlacing threads that can become a true piece of art as soon as you summon patience and are willing to learn…
The tourist also and especially receives a guided tour inside the Handicraft center through weaving history in Laos: silk worm, silk, colours, dying, womens…. Ock Pok Tok employs more than 20 master weavers for full time job. The master can perfect their art and always look deeper for new patterns, colors associations, etc. new creation and design that will be available in the boutique of Ock Pok Tok.
"If there is something which is in the center of everything, it is RESPECT"
Work conditions are perfect, employees cherished. By offering a salary 3 time higher that the average salary in Laos, the organization puts a lot of attention to this specific job, which is undoubtedly threatened by the mass tourism expansion in Luang Prabang region. For the weaving artists, it concretely means that it does not make sense anymore to leave a well-paid traditional position in order to work in a guesthouse, restaurant, café, etc… In addition to that, they can decently make their family living with a true specific place in the society.
Ock Pok Tok even goes more far away in the conservation of tradition. The organization wants to enhance traditions from all Laos and all techniques/specificities that can be found depending on the minorities. For that reason, weaver masters also go in the remote villages in order to work with them, “train” them to what the customers expect… The goal? Create a link between customers and remote villages and at the end, provide very good income resources for the villages.
Ah ! What an oasis in this handicraft center along the Mekong river ! Seated with a cup of Lao coffee, meditating on our discovery, we cannot stop to think about Quentin Trapu’s words, the manager of the center. “Tourism is a question of respect: of tradition, of the country, and yourself”. Finally, in Ock Pok Tok, if there is something which is in the center of everything, it is RESPECT.