Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hill Tribes:

This beautiful Karen girl holds up a scarf she wove on a weird sort of loom.

The loom she uses to weave her scarves.

Thailand is famous for its Northern Hill Tribes that continue to live in the mountain areas as they have for generation upon generation. It is popular among backpackers to go "trekking" to see them, but this has begun to upset their way of life, not to mention impinging on their privacy.

So a working village has been set up near Chiang Mai--the jumping-off point for trekking--where the villagers from five very different tribes can come and live for a time and sell their extraordinary handicrafts. (I heard some tourists complaining that "there wasn't much to see" but I found it just the opposite!)

The people are very shy. You have to smile a lot, ask permission to take photos and show an interest in their crafts and they will open up to you. My suitcases are stuffed and I couldn't buy much--but I wanted to. Their wonderful handiwork is a marvel. The weaving is beautiful and very different from what I saw in the south. The people love to bargain and I felt guilty bargaining them down to a few dollars for something that took months to make.

The most unusual tribe are the Karens, sometimes also called the Longnecks. Karen women wear bronze rings around their necks. They start the girls at about seven years of age and slowly add rings--which can never be removed afterwards. The neck then becomes elongated and to the eyes of the Karens, beautiful, a woman's pride.

The village had one little church--and I enquired about a school. In their own villages, I was told, they don't have schools, but while they are in the handicraft village, they can go to the one in the church. Each tribe speaks its own dialect--so I don't know how that works out in one school. (When I tried to speak to them in Thai, they had as much trouble speaking Thai back to me as I did to them!)

Will have to read up on these tribes because I found them most interesting: the most well known are the Karens, the Hmongs (originally from China) and the Lanna.

It took a lot of smiling to get folks to smile back at me and I was thrilled when one of the young girls pantomimed a willingness to take my picture with another girl. (Actually, I think she was fascinated by my camera.)

One of the tribes does silver work and the silver is 92.5% pure.(Or so I am told.)

Carrying baby.

The village was surrounded by the usual rice paddies but this is a field of garlic.

Woman weaving upstairs in her open-air house.


  1. ive heard that if they took those rings off they couldnt support their head, is this true? anyway, they have colorful and beautiful weaves. i like all the pretty stuff they wear on their heads!

  2. Have heard that, too. So maybe it's true. Would make sense.