IKTT (Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles), from SiemReap Cambodia
IKTT (Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles), from SiemReap Cambodia

Project of "Wisdom from Forest" in Siem Reap

In the tropical monsoon climatic zone, lies the country of Cambodia. Siem Reap is a town known for the country's famous remains of the Angkor dynasty. And behind the Angkor remains stands Mt. Kulen, which also embraces a number of other historical remains. Here, one can sense the nature that had fostered the Angkor dynasty over several hundred years, and the spiritual environment of Khmer culture. This mountain has also nourished natural forests typical to the tropical monsoon climate. Regrettably, however, the rich nature is being endangered as a result of heavy deforestation.

The civil war, which broke out in 1970, has left deep scars on the society and culture of Cambodia. Although peace has been gradually brought back to the villages, there remains a much more difficult task. It is not an easy process to restore the traditional culture once the basic structure of the society, a conventional rice growing society that had maintained the Khmer culture, was seriously damaged.

Silk textiles, whose restoration and revitalization of the related industries are what the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles have been committed to, are one of the most typical modes of traditional Cambodian culture. Before war time, cottons were raised in Cambodian villages, and silkworms as well for producing raw silk. A complete self-sustained system of textile production was built within the village, where everything related to the industry was available: from raw materials for yarns to natural dyes such as indigo or "lac" insects, as well as woods to be used as tools and machines.

Of particular significance among these are the lac insects. Their nests have been used for dyeing the red color, one that is distinctive to the Cambodian ikat, and this technique is a traditional wisdom of Cambodian villagers that has come down from their ancestors of the Angkor period. Lacs were traded as one of the valuable goods from the forest in the old days, and were exported to Europe during the French colonial period. In the middle of war, however, lacs became extinct in Cambodia. To raise them, there needs to be a forest, that does not have to be of such a large size but enough to maintain the favorable temperature for the insects. In the vortex of war, the natural environment was severely destroyed and such forests were no exception, thus lead to the dying out of lacs.

The Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles is now proposing a plan to regenerate a natural forest here in Siem Reap; a forest vital to the growth of lacs. The forest has also been the center of natural environment that has sustained the villagers' traditional lifestyle. Bringing back a small forest into what it once was--that is what we aim at by this project of "Wisdom from forest" in Siem Reap. But that is not the goal by itself. Our proposal includes establishment of a modest natural dye garden; meaning plants and trees and fruits, used as natural dye materials, are to be grown in the same forest. In other words, this is going to be a creation of a forest coexisting with human beings.

During the course of our activities in research and restoration of traditional textiles, on various occasions, we have learned that a tradition always exists with nature. Richness in tradition cannot stand without richness in nature. The lifestyle and culture of the people in this region have been supported largely by natural forests in the tropical monsoon climate and by rice farming. Based on this recognition, we have a plan to develop our project in yet another aspect. In the neighboring area to the "Traditional Forest", we plan to grow cotton and mulberry, and construct a small hamlet for restoring a range of Cambodian traditional crafts such as weaving, dyeing, bamboo work, woodwork, pottery, and so on. One of the purposes of building this hamlet is to convey to the next generation the abundance of traditional crafts that have lived with those tropical forests presently being endangered.

The whole scheme is called "Project of Wisdom from Forest". The initial term of the project is expected to be 5 years: the estimated time required by seeds to grow into saplings and take shape of a forest, in which lacs can survive.

In the past several years, the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles has been conducting a revival project of traditional sericulture with the Mulberry Trees Fund. We intend to make the best use of this experience in our new attempt.

For further information, please contact the institute at the below address/URL. Your kind support and cooperation will be greatly appreciated.

November 3, 2001
Kikuo Morimoto
Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles
House No.472, Road to Lake
P.O.Box 9349, Siem Reap, Angkor CAMBODIA

update : April 22, 2004 5:32 PM

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