Promote understanding of ethnic cultures in Laos

 
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In Ethnic Dress at Phasouk Primary School
In Ethnic Dress at Phasouk Primary School

This spring TAEC has been busy visiting schools and improving our activity centre. Although Laos is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Southeast Asia, most visitors, and locals themselves, are not aware of this. Through our education and outreach programmes, TAEC aims to inform and engage more people about the cultural diversity in Laos today.

In March, 112 students from Phasouk and Phongvan primary schoolsin Years 4 and 5 received visits from the TAEC Education Team. These students also visited the exhibitions at TAEC and participated in a scavenger hunt to learn more about Akha, Hmong, Tai Lue, and Kmhmu people in Laos. 

With the help of volunteer Sylvie from Canada we made improvements to our activity centre. Sylvie works as an intrepretive guide at a seasonal museum in Yukon, Canada. She shared her skills with us to create a more friendly and engaging activity centre for our visitors. This part of our museum provides hands-on activities and books where children and adults can learn more about the ethnic diversity in Laos.

Sylvie and Sai, Education Team Member, worked together to create a self-guided discovery basket about the traditional textiles and baskets made by the people in Laos. Each original, handmade object poses a question such as “Hand or mechanically woven? Are you able to tell the difference?”Answers are provided in English, French and Lao.

In a rearranged space with more books and activities, fresh paint, and bamboo stools, the TAEC activity centre is more inviting for our visitors to spend time and learn more about the many ethnic groups of Laos and the textiles they are known for.

We look forward to continuing to make improvements to our activity centre with more books and the addition of ethnic costumes in children's sizes for our young visitors to try on.

 

Books presented to Phongvan Primary School
Books presented to Phongvan Primary School
Discovery Basket of Handmade Lao Items
Discovery Basket of Handmade Lao Items

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Students at Phonesaat Primary School with a Puzzle
Students at Phonesaat Primary School with a Puzzle

Sai Thatsamanee is a member of the TAEC Education Team. From a rural Tai Lao family, he grew up in a village in Chomphet District, across the Mekong River from Luang Prabang. He joined the TAEC team over two years ago and welcomes visitors to TAEC, leads tours of the exhibits, and visits schools to share information about the ethnic diversity in Laos.

 

In the fall of 2015, Sai and the education team visited seven primary schools in Luang Prabang and these schools also visited TAEC to learn about the diverse cultures in Laos. For many of these children, their morning at TAEC was their first museum visit and provides new information on the many ethnic groups that live in rural parts of Laos. Public schools in Laos have extremely limited funding and TAEC helps to fill in the gap of resources available to the schools about the cultural heritage of Laos.

 

Sai says, “I am happy when I visit the schools. For a one hour visit we sing a song, teach about the ethnic diversity in Laos and solve puzzles” he explains. Children may wear a handmade Oma vest or a Tai Dam scarf and learn how Kmhmu and Hmong people use baskets and bags they make from natural materials to carry wood and other items from the forest to their homes or from their homes to the fields.

 

After the school visit, classes are invited to tour the TAEC exhibitions and join in a scavenger hunt.

Transportation for these visits can be a challenge, as schools in Luang Prabang do not have school buses or other ways to bring the children to visit the museum. With support from our donors, TAEC assists in paying for tuk-tuks to bring the students to visit the museum. Your support also helps to provide the simple supplies (pencils, paper, photos) we need for the visits to be successful including a pencil for every child who visits TAEC and copies of the scanvenger hunt. Thank you for your support! We look forward to welcoming more students to TAEC this spring!

Students demonstrate wearing ethnic clothing.
Students demonstrate wearing ethnic clothing.
Sai at Sithan Primary School in Luang Prabang
Sai at Sithan Primary School in Luang Prabang
Sai presents gifts to Sithan Primary School
Sai presents gifts to Sithan Primary School

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Women practice their camera skills in Laos
Women practice their camera skills in Laos

A New Exhibition at TAEC Features Photographs and Videos Created by Ethnic Minority Women.

In 2012, TAEC and Photoforward, an international media arts programme, began a joint project, Stitching Our Stories (SOS), that engages women and girls from minority ethnic groups in Laos to become story keepers for their communities. To date, 28 participants have learned about digital photography and video and used these tools to explore and document their cultural heritage.

TAEC features their work in our newest exhibition, Caregivers to Culture Keepers: Stories from Women in a Changing Laos. You can visit the online exhibition to learn more about SOS and the women and girls behind the camera. Produced in partnership with PhotoForward, the exhibition features videos, photos, oral histories, and cultural artefacts showing the diverse and changing roles of women in Laos today.

Community Researchers chose their own topic to explore in their communities. Using photography and video, they documented an aspect of life that is important to them. You can view all seven videos created through the SOS programme on the SOS youtube channel. Two of our community researchers focused on ethnic handicrafts in their villages.

Meet Keolavanh, Community Researcher of Tai Lue Weaving

Keolavan, known as Keo,  helps her family sell Tai Lue handicrafts at the Night Market in Luang Prabang. To document and learn more about the tradition of Tai Lue weaving, Keo interviewed weavers in her home village of Ban Phanom and created the short video, Tai Lue Weaving: Culture, Craft, and Identity.

Women weavers in Ban Phanom stress the importance of knowing how to weave as part of Tai Lue identity. Traditionally, men will set up the looms and women create the weavings. Girls first learn to weave simple, smaller pieces from more experienced weavers. The first weavings a girl makes will have few or no motifs. Older weavers pass down the skills and motifs to girls and young women through practice, as designs and methods are not written down.

Keo says, “I was taught Tai Lue weaving when I was young, and through my research, I learned many more things about our traditions and techniques that I want to share with the next generation.”

Meet Pasong, Community Researcher of Hmong Embroidery

As an intern at TAEC for the past 16 months, Pasong helped to prepare artefacts for the newest exhibition. For the SOS program, she decided to explore Hmong embroidery, a skill she has been learning since she was a young girl. Through interviews with her mother and grandmother, Pasong's video, My Mom and Traditional Hmong Embroidery, shows family heirlooms and Pasong's discovery of rich traditions in her family.

Pasong says, “I've learned many things about Lao ethnic groups, embroidery, and my mother's life through this project, and I'm excited for visitors to see our embroidery and hear our stories.”

Pasong's mother created a fabric doll and baby carrier for the exhibition.

Keolavanh, Community Researcher of Tai Lue Weaving
Keolavanh, Community Researcher of Tai Lue Weaving
Pasong conducts an interview in her home village
Pasong conducts an interview in her home village

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A visit to Donmai Elementary School
A visit to Donmai Elementary School

Before school was out for the summer, TAEC visited four primary schools for our school outreach program reaching nearly 70 children. Students learned about 5 of the ethnic groups in Laos: Yao Mien, Lahu, Akha, Hmong, and Khmhu.  Since most school children in Laos never have the opportunity to visit museums as a part of their school extracurricular activities,  TAEC also sponsors and coordinates school groups to visit the museum. After a tour, we set them loose on a scavenger hunt throughout the museum.

We also hosted 275 older students through two college group visits, one from Vientiane and one from Luang Prabang. We are happy to share our permanent and temporary exhibitions with more people in Laos.  Visitors learn about Akha, Kmhmu, Tai Lui, and Hmong people through exhibits of traditional clothing, household objects and handmade items including baskets, jewelry, textiles and carving.   The visits included a special exhibit on the Katu people. 

Students from Muang Ngaon a scavenger hunt at TAEC
Students from Muang Ngaon a scavenger hunt at TAEC

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Our handicrafts team headed north to visit Tai, Yao, Yao, Kmhmu, and Tai artisans in Luang Namtha, Muang Sing, and Oudomxai this past March. It’s always helpful to meet with producers face-to-face and strengthen relationships with our all-important source communities.

A typical visit starts with meeting the head of the handicrafts group for the village, followed by a walk around the village to meet with other artisans. On this visit to a Tai Dam village, we talked with several of the weavers working on a new design for TAEC and got to see the new scarf along various stages of the weaving process. The women have organized themselves into informal weaving cooperatives made up of family and friends and may range from high school students who weave after school to grandmothers! We also organize short training and feedback sessions to discuss designs, quality, and new product ideas.

To see more photos from our trip, check out our photo album on Facebook!

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