Arts and Culture
The use of handwoven cloth as identity markers – ethnic, provincial or regional, and national - remains active in Xieng Khouang Province, the Lao People Democratic Republic or Laos. Textiles and attire have served as ethnic identity markers for centuries worldwide, including Laos’ diverse population. Notions of regional and national identity markers via the medium of cloth began in the 20th century when the former kingdom became part of the French colony of Indochina and later with the establishment of the Lao People Democratic Republic. The Xieng Khouang Plateau, located in the country’s northeast region, was the locale for the Muang Phuan principality or present-day Xieng Khouang Province. This presentation examines the textiles of the province’s six official ethnic groups -Tai Phuan, Tai Dam, Phong, Khamu, O’du and Hmong - and their roles as symbols of various identities.
Women belonging to these groups presently weave on frame looms; however, handweaving on this looms type was not widespread in the past. One group, the Khamu, lacked weaving knowledge while another, the O’du, produced cloth on a foot-braced body tension loom. Bartering of cloth between ethnic groups occurred, and itinerant Chinese merchants also provided materials utilized in the composition of attire, household accessories, and ritual items. By comparing archival records with field research, a summary of traditional attire and changes in textile production are addressed before approaching the use of handwoven textiles as contemporary ethnic and other identity markers.