Thai Tribal Crafts from Thailand
Since 1973, Thai Tribal Crafts has been working with Northern Thailand's tribal population to assist in marketing their traditional handicrafts. The group works with artisans in 58 villages throughout the isolated mountain regions along the Thai-Burma-Laos border, including the Akha, Karen, Hmong, Lahu, Lisu, Lawa, and Mien tribes.
Traditionally, area tribal people had supported themselves and their families through agriculture, specifically slash and burn agriculture. This meant moving every few years in search of new fields once the old fields were no longer fertile. Finding such fresh land became increasingly difficult as land became less available due to development and a government ban on felling of trees and clearing of hillside land. Pressured to look for new ways to create a livelihood without sacrificing culture, various tribal members began creating traditional crafts in order to market locally and beyond. To this day it is helping to restore and revive traditions that might otherwise have been forgotten. Their high-quality handmade products help raise the tribe's standard of living, buy food, send their children to school, afford medical care, re-invest in agriculture, purchase land, and more.
Until 2000, Kalaya lived in the Hmong village of Huay Luak with her husband and children. One day, a stranger asked for her husband's help, requesting that he take a bag into the village for him in his car. Helping neighbors is not unusual in the village, and her husband agreed. En route, his car was stopped and searched during a routine security check, revealing that the bag contained drugs. Her husband was arrested, leaving Kalaya to take care of their three children and bills resulting from trying to clear her husband's name. Over the next several years she sold everything they owned to help fund her husband's defense, but to no avail -- her husband was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Hoping for a fresh start, in 2003 Kalaya and her children moved to Lamphun City where poverty forced them to live on the streets. Kalaya was able to earn small amounts of money by selling flowers, but not enough to make ends meet. This emotionally and financially tough time continued until the director of Thai Tribal Crafts met her while in Lamphun City on business, and discovered her gift for creating beautiful handmade products. He convinced her to move back to Huay Luak and become a producer for the company. She has since found success as a team leader of the Huay Luak Hmong Producer Group, allowing her to better support her family.
"I will continue my weaving because it is a part of my life."
Mrs. Lume, a Lahu tribe member, only completed a formal education up to 3rd grade, but continued her education outside the classroom, learning traditional embroidery, patchwork, and weaving skills. She is married to a pastor, but the church he works for cannot afford to pay him a regular salary, so Mrs. Lume's earnings from selling her crafts makes up about 70% of the total family income. She is currently serving as a representative for 30 producers from her village. Selling her crafts has allowed her to fund both of her children's educations; her son has just graduated from a university with a degree in Physical Education, and her daughter graduated from a junior vocational college.