Meet the Artisans of Sawang Boran, Thailand
Sawang Boran in Thai means ‘ancient brilliance’ – a light from the past, the mystery of light in the silk worked by the hands and vision of traditional silk weavers, a mystery to inspire the future. Sawang Boran weavers revitalise their tradition, keeping it alive in the hope of passing it on to the younger generation.
Sawang Boran stands for truly artisanal fair trade silks from North-East Thailand.
Project initiator and manager Rosanne Trottier is an anthropologist (PhD) specialised in Traditional Knowledge and Intangible Heritage – studied and practised in Europe and Asia. She is one of a handful of practitioners worldwide who work at sustainable Heritage management. Through immersion in largely endangered traditions of medicine, music, agriculture, architecture, community, female knowledge, spirituality and esoteric wisdom, she became familiar with how the ‘traditional mind’ operates. With a thorough understanding of how its complex knowledge and life systems fall apart in the modern era, she is committed to concrete informed action as a truly cultural interpreter for the ‘traditional mind’.
Sawang Boran sees that local people have knowledge seldom recognised or properly valued. Their knowledge can be empowered to make their economies, cultures and environments thrive again, for themselves and for broader benefits.
Sawang Boran's key rules and values are grounded in the many components of authenticity and equity. Equity in remunerations, in working with Nature, in the sharing of knowledge. Authenticity in silkworm varieties, honestly natural dye materials, traditional work processes and devices, authentic weaving techniques and designs. Organic standards apply throughout.
Its deepest, perhaps philosophical, value, is the weaving of beauty that speaks to the soul and senses. Sawang Boran celebrates the grassroots elegance of natural-and-cultural creativity.
Sawang Boran is a member of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements, IFOAM
SAWANG BORAN INTEGRAL STANDARD of organic production, fair trade, and sustainability for the artisanal production, dyeing and weaving of silk was developed with the support of Green Net for and on the basis of the traditional silk-making of our artisan community in Northeast Thailand. It is specifically for artisanal silk, and thus very different from the dominant form of standards designed for the industrial world. In many ways, it is above the dominant form of standards.
Sawang Boran, says Daeng, brought purpose and meaning into her life – she used to be depressed and frustrated by a life of just making ends meet. Weaving beauty helped her overcome the hardship of multiple treatments for breast cancer. She was the first weaver to understand that Sawang Boran did not mean only better pay for weavers, but rather authenticity and sincerity in every aspect of the silk-maker’s art – her deeper awareness then naturally made her a leader amongst the members, and she is now in charge of advising and monitoring all production processes in the village, from dye-stuff supplies to quality of finished weavings.
MAE NANG, 54, spins with the Yaa Lai group, but otherwise likes to work on her own – she does most of her own dyeing (she is particularly good at deep reds) and likes to weave ‘phekhep’ supplementary weft where she can modulate hues and effects of alternating plain weave and float weave. She is one of our many young grandmothers whose grown children work in the big city and leave the grandchildren behind to be raised by the older generation. For these grandmothers, silk-making income is crucial as the remittances from their migrant (or selfish) children are not always reliable. Unlike most of the members in her generation, Mae Nang with her slim figure loves to model, and eagerly takes part in Sawang Boran’s ‘fashion shows’.
YAA BAI, 66, began to spin silk with her mother when she was 12 and was allowed to do her own weaving at 18. Thanks to those six patient years of training, she can weave impeccably, in spite of poor eyesight, well into her old age. Being unmarried, she cannot count on relatives’ remittances and depends on her weaving income to support herself. She works as a team with Yaa Fai – together, they raise silkworms, spin, dye and weave. They are too old to do any farm work so they can productively devote all their time to silk. Their affinity for butterfly pea produces many delightful hues in blue, green and violet. They do chiefly plain weave, as well as some continuous supplementary weft.