Basket makers weaving way to success

by Visith Teppalath (from Vientiane Times)


VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Lao people have traditionally made household items from bamboo since ancient times, handing down their skills from generation to generation.

This has been practical because the items they make are cheap to produce and used in daily life.

All households use hand-made baskets of various kinds, especially those used to store sticky rice, known as Aeb-khao.

The use of these baskets is a long-lasting Lao tradition and has persisted until the present day.

But making these intricately formed baskets requires endless patience and care.

One group of about 10 families in Phialath village, Sangthong district, Vientiane, has been doing this work for many years and has had considerable success in terms of income generation.

They call themselves ‘The weaving handicraft and bamboo furniture group of Sangthong district’ and are among the many families around the country doing this kind of work.

They say it takes many hours to make each basket as there are several steps involved. First they have to collect the bamboo, cut it into strips, weave it into the required shape, and other tasks. They start off by looking for the bamboo in nearby woodsand sometimes they have to go further afield. Some villagers bring it from the forest to sell, but the basket makers must be careful to choose the best quality pieces.

When they are satisfied that the bamboo is of the required quality, they cut it into thin strips then boil it, soak it and varnish it.

Then the weaving process begins, which again involves many steps that have been acquired over the years. Beginners need some time to pick up the skills from their elders and children too learn from the adults.

The group was established in 2008 when a project to alleviate poverty was introduced in the village and encouraged people to produce whatever they could in larger quantities and so earn more money.

Fortunately, many of the villagers were skilled in basket making and there was an abundance of bamboo growing wild nearby.They set up the group partly because they recognised the importance of preserving their craft and because they could see a bright future in this line of work.

Each year their efforts proved to be more lucrative. The number of members in the group increased, as did their customers, while their products grew in number and the quality improved.

The more than 10 families undertaking the work today mainly turn out items made from bamboo.They try to ensure they are viewed by purchasers as pieces to be valued and are readily marketable.

When they first got together as a group they shared their knowledge and skills and then worked independently in their own homes, but contributed to the group as a whole.

The families sell their products from their homes, while many own shops in other districts of Vientiane.

Their products are of interest to both local and foreign customers, although most are bought by locals. Many people visit their shops and buy their wares each day.

After working hard over the years, the group earned a One District, One Product (ODOP) certificate in 2014 and members proudly display the certificate when they represent the group and their district by exhibiting their products at fairs around the country.

Mr BounhongVilay and his family are members of the group and are keen to display their wares whenever they get the chance. Speaking at a recent ODOP exhibition in Vientiane, Mr Bounhong said his family and all members of the group are proud of their work and pleased with their success.

“I think this line of work is a good form of development and poverty alleviation. Many of the families in our group enjoy a better life since they became members because they have a permanent job, a steady market, and can earn more money,” he said.

“My family joined the group in 2008. Now I have two shops, one at my house and one at the ITECC Mall in Vientiane, both of which bring in a decent income.”

“Before we started doing this on a commercial basis, the families in my village mostly did farming and sold a variety of goods. But this work has given my family and others a better life. Of course, we all are happy and proud of this and we plan to continue.”

“The work isn’t easy because we have to focus very hard on what we’re doing to ensure that the end product is well turned out and neat. But we have been doing this for a long time now and are familiar with it.”

“The items we make are not only used in daily life but also make attractive decorations for houses and offices.We’re always coming up with new designs that are both pleasing to look at and have greater value.”