Traversing various up and down and some halts in production, traditional brocade weaving of the Khmer people in Van Giao commune in the southern province of An Giang’s Tinh Bien district has now been restored thanks to Khmer women’s great efforts and the timely attention and investment by local authorities.
Neang Nhay and Neang Sa Mol, two experienced Khmer artisans who have gained their fame in producing brocade fabrics in Bay Nui (seven mountains) region, said Van Giao is the cradle of Khmer people’s brocade weaving. The region covers some areas of the two districts of Tri Ton and Tinh Bien.
However, traditional brocade weaving disappeared as Khmer people evacuated to Soc Trang and Tra Vinh provinces because of the hostilities in the Vietnam-Cambodia border in the late 1970.
Returning to their homeland, a large number of the local Khmer women nursed an aspiration for restoring the craft.
Their ambition was repaid in the late 1990 when the Australia-based CARE organisation financed the women’s union of An Giang’s project on preserving the Van Giao craft village of brocade weaving.
Under the project, 57 weaving and thread-spinning looms, dyeing pots and other weaving instruments have been given to the local ethnic community in addition to the costs for dyeing and training courses on dyeing techniques and waste treatment.
Finally, Khmer ethnic women’s expectation of retaining the sustainable development of traditional brocade weaving came true in January 2002 when the Van Giao brocade weaving cooperative was established as a place for the artisans of the Bay Nui region to converge.
Right from its outset, the cooperative drew the participation of 84 members who received an initial combined investment of 116 million VND (5,471 USD) from local authorities to restart their traditional weaving.
The organisation, with a determination to stand firm in the market, always pays attention to improving weaving techniques and models, and combining traditional with modern factors in order to meet customers’ tastes and approach the international market, said Le Kim Kha, the head of the cooperative.
The society has made full use of the support from An Giang’s Department of Industry and Trade that annually offers one or two training courses on weaving and dyeing techniques, attending domestic fairs and even the same events in Cambodia to introduce brocade products and expand its market.
Furthermore, thanks to financing from the province and district’s budget, the cooperative launched a centre for the weaving craft village community and one showroom to display its members’ products.
In return for this assistance, female Khmer artisans have incessantly improved their weaving skills and created 50 vivid patterns.
The patterns featuring the traditional history and daily life of Khmer people in Vietnam include the images of the Great Buddha Sakyamuni and decorative multicoloured lanterns, which help increase the attractiveness and quality of brocade products.
Cooperative members also create 40 types of products such as handbags, hats, handkerchiefs, wallets, pillows and tablecloths, as well as shawls and “xa rong” (traditional clothing worn by Khmer people), meeting the demand of numerous customers.
The brocade fabrics of Khmer ethnic groups in the Bay Nui region, made of special silks from Bao Loc district in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, are eye-catching for tourists, especially foreigners.
In another bid to expand the market, brocade articles are also exhibited at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology and big hotels and tourist sites in Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Nha Trang and Ba Ria-Vung Tau, advancing towards international markets, namely the US, Germany and Cambodia.
The weaving of Van Giao brocade is light work, suitable for middle and old-aged women.
To date, the cooperative has attracted the involvement of 70 households with 143 members.
Brocade products are priced from 200,000 (9.4 USD) to 3 million VND (141 USD), not only adding an average monthly income of 2 million VND (94 USD) for each cooperative member but also helping them escape poverty and preserve their traditional cultural characters.
Brocade weaving of the Bay Nui Khmer people was established hundreds of years ago. Last year, the cooperative was granted a collective brand certificate by the National Office of Intellectual Property of Vietnam (NOIP) and recognised as a traditional small-scale industry by the An Giang People’s Committee.
Meanwhile, the Van Giao brocade also grabbed some awards from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development at the Vietnam Craft Village Fair, notably winning a prize at the 4th ASEAN Traditional Textile Symposium held in Thai Nguyen province in March this year.