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

Silkworm Festival

The annual "Silkworm festival" is coming. It is fourth time by this year. The festival is decided to be held on a full-moon day in September every year.

In the process of engaging to restore the traditional weaving, we could re-start silkworm raising that had existed in Cambodian villages for a long time and produce again yellow raw Cambodian silk. But it also could be said it is a kind of cruel procedure because silkworm cocoons are boiled in a bath and spin into raw silk thread. It is also a fact that the IKTT stuffs and trainees and all their families rely on living by weaving cloth from the raw silk and selling them in the shop. So we started to hold a mass to thank those sacrificed silkworms once a year. This is the root of the silkworm festival.

It is a common knowledge that the raw silk is white in Japan, but in Cambodia it is yellow. From old days the silkworms in Cambodia grow by eating mulberry leaves same as in Japan and China, but it's spinning silk is yellow. We can call the shining color as the golden yellow cocoons.

The Cambodian silk weaved from such yellow raw silk is very flexible and strong. And the natural dye colors dyed from plants in the traditional way is different from the chemical dye colors, the natural dye colors have depth and not so easy to fade with time. The Cambodian raw silk is different from those Japanese and Chinese ones which have been crossbred. They have good traditional silk qualifications. They can be washed in water, not necessary of dry-cleaning. In Japan in the past at household they also usually washed Kimono which we call "Araihari". The Cambodian raw silk has such good capabilities. That is the characters of Cambodian yellow silk. The texture of raw silk reeling by hands has flexibility that is different from the raw Chinese silk made by machines. We are getting appraisal from customers having our textiles in their hands that our textiles are like of "Yuuki Tumugi" or "Ki-Hachijyou" (Those are traditional Japanese textile) some fifty years ago in Japan.

It is the wonderful Cambodian textile world. But the traditions had been almost disappearing in the long civil war. And the traditions were revived by the hands of the experienced elderly women who slightly kept the memories.

IKTT has started the project to revive the Cambodian traditional textiles since 1995, visiting the villages to look for the elderly women who have the skills and the experiences of the textiles. It is not so easy to bring back the lost experiences. But we have started restoring to collect each one piece by piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

The IKTT workshop was opened to transfer the restored skills to the young generation at current place of Siem Reap in 2000. At first it started to accept a few trainees, but last year the whole members grew up over 500, while I was thinking it was my duty to create jobs for poor young villagers.

It was a result of putting priorities on accepting the poor household women living in country-side who have lost their parents or father, or divorced or bereaved to their husband with their children. There are many women coming to work with their children in the workshop nowadays. If they leave their children at home, sometimes they cannot work enough because they worry about them. If their children are staying with them, mothers can work well free from any anxieties.

There are a few women of around seventy years old at IKTT. They are masters. They come to Siem Reap all the way from the traditional textile villages in Takeo Province to train young weavers. And there are also many experienced mother weavers from Takeo Province. Such masters from Takeo Province and mothers trained in Siem Reap are put in charge of working to revive the textiles. The three generations collaborate to create the wonderful traditional textile world.

The beauty of Cambodian textiles is the art of silk. The world of Cambodian Ikat which is exceptional in the world is now coming back here. IKTT is doing such memorial activity.

While we are trying to revive the traditional textiles, we are getting to find out that there were such a rich natural environments in Cambodian villages at a time in the past, where they can produce the textiles without buying anything from outside. All of raw materials to make the textiles were able to get everywhere nearby easily in the past.

The plants that are needed to dye, for example indigo plants, existed nearby in the villages. The villagers planted mulberry trees and grew silkworms, and grew cotton plants and spin cotton into yarn. But such rich natural environments and people's experiences have been lost in the long civil war. We are getting to find out that we cannot complete to revive the great traditional textiles without restoring such natural environments.

The Revival of the forest has been started at the area near Banteay Srei Temple by Siem Reap river, north of Siem Reap and 15 km far from Angkor Thom's ruin since 2003. The area could be called a kind of waste land where all trees have been cut down. We have restored the traditional forest by planting sprouts that could revive on the deserted tree stumps and cutting weeds and thinning grasses. Five years have passed and the place has been growing up at the level of a small grove.

The knowledge of the villagers living in the forest have brought down and grown for hundreds or thousands years. We started to create a new village aiming for reviving them. We name the project as "Project for Wisdom from the Forest (PWF)".

The forest itself is not special. It could be existed in anywhere in the past. The forest is also a symbol of natural environment. There are mountains and trees, waters, and animals living in there, and people also.

The forest is a natural treasury. So the textiles are the gift presented from the forest.

Morimoto Kikuo
Translation by Mr.Takurou MATSUOKA

update : October 22, 2007 8:33 AM

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