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Nurturing Nan


The quiet northern province is developing a range of souvenirs that attest to the charm of its culture

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IN RECENT YEARS, the northern province of Nan has been drawing tourists yearning for beautiful nature, a slow pace of life and cultural conservation. Unlike other areas, however, the province has not been spoilt by the high volume of tourists but has retained its charms, for which the credit must go to the strong community networks and local administrative organisations.
The public organisation Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration – Dasta for short – has been so impressed by Nan’s rich and strong culture that it has selected the province for a project called Nan Ner Chao (“It’s Nan”). Under the scheme, Nan’s distinctive textiles are being developed to meet the needs of changing lifestyles while highlighting the value of the weaving culture.

The prototype of a woman’s dress developed with the dao lom duen motif.

The project, which started two years ago, is based on community participation and aims to drive development in response to the actual demand of people in the communities. Some 100 villagers from five sub-districts are now taking part in the project, each using its distinctive textile pattern to develop Nan Ner Chao as a premium brand targeting upper middle-class tourists.

Weavers of Baan Chiang Rai in Dotai subdistrict are known for their production of pla ta kong in classic chequered style.

“This is not a top-down policy, but a bottom-up approach. The aim is to support an area-based project with valuable cultural resources as an integrated development model with extended implementation for sustainable living,” says Chumpol Musiganont, managing director of Dasta’s Nan Old City. “The Nan Ner Chao brand is a pilot project of the cultural economy, which aims to preserve and promote cultural values while also combining culture, economy, and technology.” 

Fisherman pants incorporate different patterns.

Designed and produced by several Nan fashion designers and entrepreneurs, the prototypes and packaging of Nan Ner Chao brand have now been launched. Based on the concept “building pride in people’s lives”, they include a hand-woven woman’s dresses, shirts and shorts for men, fisherman pants and scarves and are beautifully packaged in a well-designed hardboard box or an attractive bamboo cylinder.

The prototype of the Nan Ner Chao scarf with the pla ta kong pattern and packaged in a bamboo cylinder.

A man’s shirt with the distorted pattern of lai bo suak.

“According to our survey, most visitors to Nan are what we term quality tourists – mainly Thais– and they are willing to spend extra for premium products that underline Nan’s cultural identity rather than buy kitsch dolls, tasteless key rings and magnets, and T-shirts. A souvenir should be much more, a memento of places seen and experienced. The premium hand-weaving textile product that’s not just a piece of fabric or a tube skirt but a ready-to-wear item that incorporates the remarkable textile patterns of the communities with a contemporary design matches that need,” Chumpol says.

Chumpol Musiganont, managing director of Dasta’s Nan Old City.

Five distinctive textile patterns from five sub-districts have been selected to showcase Nan’s broad cultural identities. Weavers of Nai Wiang sub-district are noted for their capability to create the traditional pattern of lai nam lai yod nam, which combines flowing water with raindrop designs. The pattern signifies the province’s location in the Nan river valley surrounded by forested mountains.

lai nam lai yod nam

“Nan province has a long history dating back to the 13th century and the communities are made up of different ethnic groups,” says noted historian Assoc Prof Sunait Chutintaranond. “Set in a mountainous valley, the provincial capital has retained its cultural identities and the locals are keen to preserve their communities by focusing on quality tourists rather than a high volume of visitors. Local regulations have been issued to limit the height of buildings in municipal areas and preserve the landscape. Nan has the potential to promote its authenticity and cultural values without difficulty.”

lai bo suak

Bo Suak sub-district is an important archaeological site where the excavation of two ancient kilns led to the discovery of pottery dating back some 700 years. The Fine Arts Department has been conducting studies in this area since 1984 and has found that it was an important pottery production site in the Lanna kingdom. Its popularity was proved by the discoveries of Bo Suak ceramic debris in ancient burial grounds along the northern mountain ridges from Chiang Mai to Tak and Kamphaeng Phet provinces. Textile weavers of Baan Sao Luang in Bo Suak also borrow the distinctive epaulet-like motif found at the mouth of ancient jars for their textile pattern, which is known as lai bo suak.

Noted historian Sunait Chutintaranond calls for the communities’ participation in meeting actual demand.

“Over the last two years, Dasta has joined with the Thailand Textile Institute to develop stronger but softer yarn and textile dye colours that prevent colour bleeding and fading,” says Chumpol. 
“Brainstorming sessions with representatives of the locals are regularly organised so that we are aware of what they want and can share ideas. The local designers also help to develop the products and local entrepreneurs are in charge of production process. We work closely with the Provincial Commerce Office to identify potential market channels and so far, several shops in the province have shown their interest.”
“The one tambon one product – Otop – scheme has not been successful here because there are no differences between products,” adds Sunait. “The cultural identity of each item is not highlighted as it should be and the price war is a disaster.”

lai dao lom duen

Villagers of Baan Na Pong Pattana are recognised for the intricate pattern of dao lom duen (moon surrounded by stars) while those living in Baan Chiang Rai of Dotai sub-district are known for their pla ta kong, a classic chequered style that is similar to pla khao ma or loincloth. The pla ta kong is usually used for making bedspreads and blankets but it being developed as a scarf by the Nan Ner Chao brand using delicate but durable cotton yarn.

maeng mum aom yum teen mee

 

pla ta kong

“Another pattern, maeng mum aom yum teen mee of Baan Nong Tao weavers in Muang Tued sub-district, has also been highlighted for the brand’s products. The design features spiders’ legs stretching in all directions and the locals believe this pattern is suitable for children and pregnant women as it will help protect them against dangerous things,” says Chumpol.
The full range of products is scheduled for launch in the second quarter of next year. For details, visit www.Dasta.or.th or call (02) 357 3580.

Published : December 02, 2016

By : Khetsirin Pholdhampalit The Sunday Nation