Shaman Cloth or Ceremonial Wedding Blanket


Artist: Souksakhone Khakampanh
Houaphan Province, Laos
Presented by Above the Fray: Traditional Hilltribe Art

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Souksakhone, a Lao Loum woman, has been weaving and creating her own natural dyes for nearly half a century. Thirty years ago she won both first and second prizes in Laos’ first textile competition, and she is known as the best natural dyer in the region.  Made from village-raised, hand-reeled, naturally-dyed silk, handwoven on a hand-built loom.  Souksakhone is the natural dyer and designer of the textile.  

This textile is a traditional Tai Dang (animist) textile that is bordered and backed by handspun, handwoven cotton, and used for shaman ceremonies. There, it is folded and placed in front of the altar and the shaman kneels on it when invoking the powers of the mythological creatures woven into the textile to help bring an ancestor spirit into the room to help with the ceremony. Additionally, it can be used as a ceremonial wedding blanket where the mythological creatures protect the new family.

The dyes used include lac (red), annatto (orange), fresh indigo (light green), fermented indigo (dark blue), yellow gold from the wood from haem (“climbing turmeric”) overdyed by the bark from the Duabanga-grandiflora (tree named Kor Ben in Lao), and Duabanga-Grandiflora overdyed with dirt from the burned rice fields (black – soaked in dirt for 4 days and 3 nights).

The motifs are mythological creatures that are spiritually protective, and include mythological river serpents in many iterations, including small curled tailed, two-headed with triangle heads, diamond and crested heads, and pregnant with multicolored flowers. There are also ancestor spirits in the center diamonds (which can represent lanterns to light the way to the spirit world). The border contains rows of hooks, which could be fish hooks, the top of Buddha’s staff, or any similar shape in nature. There is a row of “S” hooks, four rows of stripes, which represent the belly of the mythological hong bird whose belly is the rainbow, and the fringe pattern on the bottom. The tassels on the ends of the cloth are flowers made from inverted silk cocoons with twisted silk threads.

Dimensions: 29.75” X 87”

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