Brocade blues

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Traditional craft finds few takers in the market and within the household

Ka Sinh began working on her brocade loom when she was 12.

Everyday, Ro ong K'Ro unwinds at her loom after finishing housework.

Unlike others in her community, there is no watching TV for the 60- year-old woman living in Bo No C Village in Lam Dong Province.

Instead, she relaxes by working on her brocade loom. She talks to her daughter about house and field work as she weaves deftly.

For K'Ro, as for many women of Cil ethnic minority, the brocade loom has been an inseparable friend since she was 16.

Sitting on the floor with the loom on her stretched feet, K'Ro holds on to the woven brocade while winding threads around the loom.

A stretch of brocade 1.6m long and 55cm wide takes a week to weave and can sell for as much as US$15, she said.

It may not be much, moneywise, but K'Ro's dedication to her loom is her only way of teaching the traditional craft to her daughter. "If I don't weave regularly, my daughter will not learn our traditional craft!," said a somewhat agitated K'Ro.

"It is the destiny of every Bo No C woman to weave brocade," says K'Ro, who inherited her loom from her mother and wants to pass it on to her daughter.

K'Ro is just one of many skilled brocade artisans in this village of 60 families. Women of Bo No C Village have been weaving brocade for hundreds of years.

At night, Cil Mup K'Bong, 80, works on her loom in fading light, as she has been doing for the last 65 years. K'Bong taught the intricacies of brocade weaving to her daughter and granddaughter, both of who started weaving when they were 15.

However, not every Bo No C girl is interested in preserving the heritage and legacy of their families. Nine-year-old Ro ong Thuy Duong shook her head in distaste as her mother wove on the porch.

Her mother, K'Dung scolded her: "How will you survive without knowing how to weave? A proper woman must learn to weave!"

K'Dung says that in the past, the brocade was woven only to make clothes for the family. It is only recently that the work has become a source of income.

From morning to evening, women, young and old, work diligently to create brocade fabric, bracelets and head coverings. However, their unique products have yet to receive the appreciation of the market.

The narrow, winding road leading to the village in the central highlands discourages traders and tourists, so every evening, the Cil women make a long journey to markets in Lac Duong Town to sell their brocade. On a good day, they sell a few head coverings for VND15,000 ($0.7) each.

Often enough, they return empty-handed. K'Bong says it's difficult to sell bigger brocade fabric pieces, no matter how beautiful they are.

K'Tuyn, one of the most skilled brocade weavers in Bo No C Village, has been invited to teach brocade weaving in Hanoi. She says that while products of other communities have found shelf space in the many souvenir shops in Da Lat Town, she and her fellow-weavers wander the streets to sell brocade.

According to Da Gout Nam, president of the Lat Commune People's Committee in Don Duong District, "No one has yet shown any interest in supplying the fabric to retail shops. The villagers really treasure their craft, but don't know how to promote it."

He said that the village is among two traditional trade villages in the province and a part of the province's tourism project launched in 2006.

The province spent $20,000 to bring artisans together in village workshops, but without plans to introduce the brocade in the market, the products started piling up in storage. Frustrated, the artisans have returned to working from their homes and selling the brocade themselves.

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