Meet the Artisans of Thai Tribal Crafts
Traditionally, the tribal people have supported their families by engaging in slash and burn agriculture, which required them to move their village every few years in search of new fields when old ones lost their fertility. It is now no longer possible for them to continue this semi-nomadic lifestyle, as there are no new places to move on to. Mainly for ecological reasons the Thai Government now prohibits the felling of trees and clearing of hillside land. Thus, the tribal people are finding that they have less and land on which to support their families. The production and sale of handicrafts are obvious answers to their problems, and ones which do not destroy the traditions of tribal community life. In fact, handicraft production helps to restore and revive these traditions which otherwise might have been forgotten.
Thai Tribal Crafts (TTC), established in 1973, is an agency sponsored by the Christian Service Foundation (Baptist) and registered in Chiang Mai in the name of "Thai Tribal Crafts". The main objective of TTC is to provide opportunities for improving the quality of life of the tribal people in the Northern Thailand. Seven Hill tribes of Northern Thailand are involved: the Akha, Hmong, Karen, Lahu, Lawa, Lisu and Mien groups, as well as many women working in Chiang Mai. Today, TTC is a certified member of the World Fair Trade Organization.
There are approximately 32,000 Akha living in Thailand. The somber blue-black clothing is brightened with embroidery, applique, seeds, silver ornaments, coins, shells, brightly dyed chicken feathers and bright green beetle wings. The men make many kinds of baskets, musical instruments and crossbows.
The Karen is the largest highland group in Thailand. There are two major subtribes, namely Sgaw Karen and Pwo Karen. Karen population is estimated at around 293,000 which is about 50% of the total hill tribe population of Thailand.Karen women are noted for their ikat (tie-dye) weaving, using cotton thread and natural dyes. The weaving is done on a back strap loom. Karen living in different areas produce their own style of dresses, which give rich variety to handicrafts produced. Some of them embroider using Job's tears (seeds) for embellishment.
There are approximately 58,000 Luhus now living in Thailand. The four subtribes of Lahu are Lahu Na, Laju Sheh Leh, Lahu Shi and Lahu Nyi and they all produce a diversity of designs. Lahu women are skilled in weaving cloth both on back strap and foot treadle looms. Lahu weaving is unique in that the pattern appears on only one side of the cloth. Lahu women also produce delicate and colourful patchwork trims.
Mien women are noted for their beautiful multi-colour cross-stitch embroidery, which richly decorates their clothing.
The Lawa people in Thailand are found only in the north and their population is about 8,500.TTC is selling their beautiful black handwoven cloth with ikat (tie-dye) designs and their silver jewelry.
There are approximately about 92,000 Hmong people living in Thailand. Hmong women produce some of the most exquisite needlework to be found anywhere in the world, Blue Hmong women are the only producers of batik cloth among the tribal people. Their clothing is richly decorated with magnificent embroidery, applique, cutwork, pom-poms, batik cloth and silver jewellery.Many Hmong men are skilled blacksmiths and gunsmiths.
There are approximately 23,000 Lisus living in Thailand.The Lisu of northern Thailand make their clothing from coloured cloth stitched into outfits trimmed with row upon row of multicoloured stripes of cloth, applique patchwork, tassels, and beadwork.The more wealthy wear massive amounts of hand-crafted silver ornaments for festive occasions.Lisu men produce crossbows, bird and animal traps, musical pipes and bamboo flutes.