Vietnam's forgotten silk weavers

Some years ago I found some fantastic pieces of Ikat silk in Phnom Phen in Cambodia. I asked the people who were selling it: “Where do you get it from? Is it from Takeo? Or Kampong Cham?” “No, no... It is from Kampuchea Krom.” “Where is Kampuchea Krom?” “It is in Vietnam. One place in Vietnam they still weave it.” “Can you tell me where?”

No, nobody knew. They only got it sometimes when somebody came and sold it. So I decided to go to Vietnam, and for two days I was looking for the place. At last somebody knew where it was. And I found the place where they make this amazing Ikat.

The first thing I saw was this little girl a little bit outside the village. She was sitting there and weaving. And the fantastic thing about this Ikat is because Campuchea Krum is old Khmer area, a minority in Vietnam... They have been isolated in Vietnam and also from Cambodia. And therefore, they weave as they wove in Cambodia 100 years ago. But this tradition, and this kind of design and very difficult... Ikat is gone in Cambodia, but it still exists there in this area. The reason they don't weave it anymore in Cambodia is because they have been influenzed by Western design and because it takes a very long time to make this kind of Ikat

This girl, when she is weaving.. She weaves some centimeters every day. And the whole piece which is a little more than 2 meters long... It takes her about 2 month to finish... if you also count the time it takes to color the thread.

I love to sit and look at the weavers in Asia when they sit and weave, especially Ikat. Because what they do is fantastic... what they do is so relaxed. It is really a kind of meditation. And I always wonder how they find out which kind of thread to take next time to get this design perfect. And they always tell me... “Sir, it is very easy, we just do it.” But they do it because mother taught daughter, mother taught daughter for thousand years. So it is sitting there in there unconsciousness.

And when you look at her feet, it looks like she doesn't know what she is doing... she just does it.

And afterwards, we go to the real village where they weave. And it was somewhat a shock because there I could see how poor these people really were. But the silk they make is the best silk in the world. The most fantastic handwoven design in the world are done by this extremely poor minority in Vietnam.

And they tell us that they sell to a few shops in Vietnam. But they don't sell so much... so they don't weave so much. So they want us to buy more. For this reason I was happy that I went there.

This people is a minority in an area they feel is their own. They feel they have a hard life. They can't speak their own Khmer language in the school. they don't learn it, but in the weaving in this design they some way keep the Khmer tradition. They feel they still have their culture. So they are very proud. But they are the last ones who do it in Vietnam. Before there were many such places in Vietnam. Here they still do it in the raining season. And it gives them an extra income som they earn money, not just from the rice field, but also from the weaving.

For me, when I was there it was with divided feelings of happiness and sadness. Sad, because I know these poeple are poor and this cultrue will one day disappear because weaving takes too long time and people will not pay. But happy because I found them and can now sell their fantastic silk.