The Sedang ethnic group in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum calls their centuries-old bark clothes “traditional treasure.”
“In the old days, our ancestors made clothes and blankets from bark fibers. A blanket could be exchanged for a one-meter-long pig while a dress could sell for more than 10 grams of gold,” said A Dah, an elderly man in Dak On Village, where Sedang people have been living for centuries.
To make clothing, villagers said their ancestors chopped a native tree called loong phoong
into logs of about two meters long and removed the bark. Then they peeled the skin layer between the outer bark and the wood before soaking this skin in water for two months.
The Sedang then used pestles to beat the skin into a pulp and dried it in the shade to make wood fibers, which were then woven to make clothes and blankets.
A Mam, head of the Dak On Village, said most of bark clothing and blankets have been damaged due to poor preservation.
“Today we have only 12 bark cloth items,” Mam said.
“In the past, our villagers wore bark clothes at important events like welcoming a new communal house or a new rice crop. Now, we only use at major festivals,” he said.
Mam said some people from Ho Chi Minh City and other places have offered to buy them at very high prices but his community will never sell these items.
“This is because we can’t find loong phoong trees to make the clothes anymore,” he said.
A Xen says a bark dress weighs two kilograms.
Sedang people now wear their last bark clothes only at major festivals.
A Xen wears what his community calls "traditional treasure."
He says after the bark clothes are worn at major festivals, they will be washed and dried under the sun for three days before being put back into the wardrobe.