Lao Textiles

Textiles in Laos carry symbolic meaning and are woven for specific purposes. Here are some below:

Pha BiengScarf for the upper body
Pha HomBlanket
Pha SabaiHealing cloth
Pha Phok LongLong funeral cloth
Pha KaanHead cloth
Pha Phii MonShaman cloth
Pha MongMosquito net decoration
Pha Khan MonA love gift handkerchief

Detail of lady weaving patterned Lao silk textile

Many motifs used in Lao textiles are derived from the textiles of the Lao-Tai ethnic groups. The Lao-Tai are generally shamanic people with a strong belief in the afterworld. Nowadays Buddhism is becoming more popular and links to animism or shamanism are looked upon as old-fashioned, thus Buddhist beliefs are increasingly used to interpret icons. Usually textiles depict stories of ancestors spirits traveling to the afterworld, stories of Nagas and their influences on life around them, Siho – the half lion half elephant figure and motifs inspired by nature and daily life. These motifs appear in various forms of the many different sub ethnic groups of the Lao-Tai and using a number of techniques.

khamu woman  with textiles

Other weavers in Laos are Hmong, and a few Khamu groups. These groups don’t weave the densely patterned techniques that the Lao-Tai weave. Hmong weave hemp and cotton and dye fabric with indigo. This is the base cloth for their intricate embroidery. Hmong also practice batik. The Khamu weave cotton for clothing.

Tai-Lu Skirt

full length Tai Lu Skirt

This skirt is a reproduction of a ceremonial skirt worn by Tai-Lu in Phongsaly Province. It consists of two skirts the outer skirt being the fabric worn on a daily basis. The inner skirt is more decorative and only worn on special occasions.

Tai-Lu people are division of the Tai-Kham-Sui-Kadai, who originated in Yunnan area, China. They are now known as Lao-Tai people. Tai means ‘people of’, so the word following usually states which area they are from. Tai-Lu people finally migrated to Northern Laos from Yunnan area around 10 A.D. Other Lao-Tai groups had been in Laos (present day borders) since 8 A.D. By the 13-14th centuries a kingdom known as the Sipsong Tjao Tai (Twelve Tai Princes) had been established. It co-existed for a couple of centuries with the Lan Xang and Siam Kingdoms. There was much fighting in these times.

Pha Bieng – Scarf for upper body

A length of fabric to wrap the upper body is used all over Asia from India to Laos. In Laos these fabrics served two purposes either for shamanic rituals or Buddhist ceremonies. Nowadays the Pha Biang styles of the Lan Xang Kingdom are more popular. In Buddhism the river dragon is known by its Pali name as Naak or Naga, in Lao-Tai culture it is called Ngueak. Popular motifs for a Pha Biang include:

Maak jaapWater chestnuts
Dok bueaLotus flowers
Kaap khoamLanterns
Meng khabuaButterflies

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