Minority communities in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong collect wild barks and branches from deep within the forest to make traditional brocade dyes
Minority villages across Vietnam's most remote mountainous areas have supported themselves for generations on the craft of weaving brocade.
Ka Hum from Bao Lam District's Loc Thanh Commune, Lam Dong Province, at her loom
All it takes is cotton yarn and dyes.
According to Ro Ong K'Pek, a brocade weaver in B'no C Hamlet of Lat Commune in Da Lat Town's Lac Duong District, local people traditionally used only yellow, green and orange-brown after the main color - white - for dyeing brocade. Later, they developed other colors such as black, black green, blue, red, and indigo.
Ka Them of Bao Lam District's Loc Thanh Commune, Lam Dong Province, makes dye for brocade.
People make the dyes with a variety of wild natural ingredients, usually including the trunk wood, roots, bark, leaves, fruit, seeds, flowers and tubers of native plants and trees. Most families have their own special techniques for making the dyes.
K'Pek said people use the saffron leaf to make a yellow dye; leaves from various beans, the tiger claw tree and forest mango trees for green; the trunk of the curry tree for an orange-brown hue; the wood of the skunk tree for black-green; jamblon fruit and the myrtle plant for shades of black; and the silk tree for a red tint.
Ko Sa K'Nga, who lives in Dung K'noh Commune's Hamlet 2 in Lac Duong District, said the Chill people in Dung K'noh's Za Hamlet pick assam indigo leaves in the forest before washing and soaking them in water for about 24 hours. When the leaves turn reddish, they squeeze them for the juice.
They then add some clam shell powder (burned until completely white and then cooked until a bit sticky) to the juice and stir regularly until bubbles appear. They then add some gourd seeds or purple papaya seeds (roasted and ground and mixed with some salt) to reduce the bubbles.
They stir the mix for 2-3 hours until the upper layer turns blackish and the black green-silts appear in the lower layer. They leave the solution still for 30-60 minutes before removing the water from the mix to generate a paste, which forms after 3-7 days.
They also burn dried forest banana tubers into ash and mix the ash with water before pouring the mixture into a dry gourd. The solution is filtered by fern leaves placed on in a hole at the bottom of the gourd and the water drifts down into the assam indigo paste. The filtered banana tuber ash water and the assam indigo paste now form a dye.
According to K'Nga, cotton yarn is boiled with sticky rice until the grains are well-done, and they are then dried in the sun. Tree bark is cooked with water for 1-2 hours, and the cooled water is then used to wash the yarn after it is dyed. After washing and drying the yarn again, it is dyed and washed again until the desired color is achieved (0.5 kilos of dye are used for one kilo of yarn.)
The seeds of the mua bay gan plant provide brocade weavers with purple hues.
Ka Them, resident of Hamlet 15 in Loc Thanh Commune, Bao Loc Town's Bao Lam District, said the K'ho people in the village usually use the trunk and leaves of several wild trees to make dyes. She described the process of making dyes as follows: chop the wood and leaves of the trum and mo plant species, and soak them in water in a jar for two nights. Remove the leaves and leave the juice still for one more night, then add some lime, stir and let the juice sit for 3-4 hours. Then remove the water, keep the paste and leave it still for two more nights. Soak the yarn in the juice for two nights and take it out to dry. Soak and dry the yarn about 10 times until it has the desired color.
K'Nga said Chill people traditionally must not talk with anyone else during the dying process. They must take meals alone and cannot touch saucepans. The dyes from natural ingredients will then lose their stench and will not fade. Chill women are required to have two brocade sarongs dyed with natural materials before they begin their married life.