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

The Real Textiles

About 20 people visited to IKTT from the villages of Siem Reap province and Banteay Meanchey province. Recently in Cambodia the activities of creating the special local products of each province or village are coming out introduced from the Trade Department of Cambodia like Japanese one local product from one village activity. The visitors are the leaders of such activities.

The visitors are the group of observers including village heads and women. They all listened carefully to the lecture of natural dyestuffs. And their curiosity was for the textile's prices and of course the beautiful natural colors.

There existed wonderful yellow color silks in Cambodia before, but now imported machine-made white silks became common one. The soft feeling and good quality of the Cambodian real hand-made yellow silks only remain in elder people' mind. And at that time, the natural dyestuffs also existed in people's life. But such memories of the villagers have disappeared after 20 years local civil war. It has passed 10 years since the local civil war was finished in 1998.

It has passed about 40 years since 1970. Almost all of the villagers who came here today belong to younger than such generation.

For example, the person who heard once about the name of natural dyeing plants has not actually seen the dyeing process using such plants. The common experience and knowledge of villagers like planting mulberry trees at village and glowing cocoons and cultivating cottons and reeling them have been disappeared under during the local civil war.

It has passed 15 years since IKTT started to reproduce and activate of the traditional textiles activities. Recently such IKTT activities are coming up to attract attention in Cambodia.

To create real traditional Cambodian textiles becomes our usual work at IKTT. The PWF silk textiles were selected as one of the representative agricultural products in Siem Reap province (The other representative product was Prahok, the Cambodian traditional food made by fermented fish). As a result of it, the number of Cambodian local NGO groups and local villagers who come to IKTT are increasing.

IKTT has received a lot of trainees who study about the way of natural color dyeing so far, according to the requests from the other textiles project NGO groups. They know only about chemical dyeing. But some of them like from Kampot province vocational school students got their skills up and now their textiles sell at IKTT shop.

Also the other day the group that are planning to create handicraft project at Ratanakiri province came to PWF. Ratanakiri province faces to the border of Vietnam and has many mountains. A lot of minority people have been living in the mountains even now. The project starts to create such minority people's traditional cages and clothes and sell them. They presented me their handmade textiles. But I was a little disappointed when I saw their textiles, because the textiles are made by machine-made cotton yarns and chemical color dye staffs. They said their villagers still use an old-style backstrap loom. They do such handmade work but the textiles look like a mass-produced souvenir because of using machine-made materials.

I showed the old cotton cloth to the villagers which was given to me when I visited their village of the Ratanakiri province about 10 years ago. The cloth is used hand-made reeling cotton yarns that are dyed a real natural Indigo dyeing. And also a red color of lac is used as an accent. It is wonderful traditional cloth.

The young leader came from Ratanakiri province surprised when he looked at the cloth. He told me that he once heard such real Ratanakiri cloth but he has not seen before. The cloth is rough hand feeling and deep Indigo blue. When I talked with him about the importance of hand-made and the selection of materials and so on for a while, his eyes were shinning.

IKTT stocked such old clothes made by Cambodian weavers. The clothes could be said our textbooks and teachers. Sometime IKTT young weavers and I talk about the reason of the beauty of such clothes by checking and turning upside down the old clothes to find the skills hidden in the clothes.

The 15 years IKTT works so far was repetition of finding them. We could reach the recent level gradually finding and getting back such hidden skills. It is not easy. We have still thought that we have to reproduce such Cambodian weaver's wonderful works as much as we can.

But the challenge is so high and deep.


Morimoto Kikuo
Translation by Mr.Takurou MATSUOKA

update : April 29, 2009 11:53 AM

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