Aug 23, 2009

Lao Ethnic Handicrafts Store

It would be difficult to spend much time in Laos and especially in the houses and villages of the Lao Seung (upland peoples) without developing an appreciation of their handicrafts. Obscuring the line between what is utilitarian and what is beautiful I bring the uneducated view to handicrafts. I usually buy what can be used as originally intended anyway.

Above is the entrance to the handicrafts cooperative in Vientiane. It's right next to the post office and across the street from the morning market on the South side. Map is below. On the map it's called "Hmong Market" for good reason, most of the stalls are owned by Hmong people and most of the patrons are Hmong. Many overseas Hmong go there to buy ethnic clothes to bring home and wear at festivals. There are also a lot of forest products to buy, the horns from small deer, tusks from wild pig, porcupine quills, plants and animals, powders and potions.

There are also a heck of a lot of clothes and crafts from other ethnic minorities but you have to know what you want and find someone to sell it to you. Most tourists wander through without buying so the shopkeepers don't bother trying to sell anything to you. The lack of tourists also makes for nice shopping experience. I think the first price offered was good, I didn't bargain. The quality was much greater and the work more authentic than at the morning market. Many items were the same as you would see in an upland village, except brand new. No pillow cases or duvet covers. Prices were a fraction of across the street. Things are displayed Asian style. Large piles or hung from the ceiling seemingly haphazardly but really grouped in a systematic order so that the required item can be found quickly.

Above a small bag to carry stuff that all Lao people see have called a tong. This one is Akha, woven like a fish net from the inner bark of some tree or some other naturally occurring fiber. We have to go to the post office down the street to get our mail and sometimes I wear it while pedaling the bicycle. My wife makes fun of me, grown man wearing a pocketbook and all. I bought it in Vientiane at the store in the photo up top.

The basket above hangs beside my computer to catch letters and small screwdrivers and markers I don't want the kids touching. It was made by the Lanten people and I bought it in the crafts coop in Muang Long. Now there is a bank where the coop used to be and a woman runs it out of her house. The bamboo is darkened by being hung above the fire, this hardens it or keeps it from rotting or something, all people seem to hang bamboo stuff above the fire for some time, the darker the better.

Notice the different weaving around the bottom, and also just below the top. I figure this would be a great "go to market in the morning" type basket. Baskets keep greens from being crushed. The Lanten make good stuff.

This sticky rice basket is Lanten also, my wife just recently started using it, remarking that the weaving is very good. Again notice how the weaving changes bottom to top and also a star shaped pattern across the top. I bought these also in Muang Long but had forgotten about them for a couple of years.

Lastly this is a tong made for sale, probably after export, it has a zipper which I haven't seen on the ones regular folks carry, also it's very small, so to be sold as a small purse for women. I think it's Yao by the red pom poms, but I'm not sure, never spent any time in Yao villages. The fabric is hand woven cotton, grown on the side of a hill somewhere up north no doubt. The dye no doubt the natural blue black stuff everyone seems to fancy. The embroidered designs are intricate and with tight stitching. This tong belongs to Thipalada who is modeling it, her first pocket book, she puts lots of things in it. I also bought this at the cooperative in Vientiane.

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