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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Textiles of the Tai Lue at the Bank of Thailand

This venue almost qualifies as a Chiang Mai 'secret'... hidden behind the huge main building of the Bank of Thailand on the road to Mae Rim, this beautifully conceived and executed museum houses two collections linked by the common thread of commerce. One exhibit is as expected for a bank: coins and their early equivalents (cowries, beads, clay spindles and weights). The other contains textiles from the region, which were an important commodity in trade. I often take visitors here to see this high quality collection, which is available for viewing during bank hours, but the current exhibition is only up for less than a month and deserves special mention. It opened the other night with high ceremony including dancing girls, and guys, traditional music and food galore. Everyone dressed in their best Tai Lue or traditional attire.

A traditional dance of welcome was performed by dancers in vibrant Tai Lue skirts with silk blouses, and ended with a carpet of golden flower petals gracefully strewn onto the green lawn. Lan Na music performed on traditional instruments was a fitting accompaniment. The opening ceremony concluded with the cutting of the ribbon and photographers jockeying for position around the exhibition spaces.

Regarding textiles, one thinks immediately of costume, but in this region certain other genres of textiles are important as well. One of my favorite is that of 'tung', or ceremonial banners that are hung vertically in temples, outside of buildings, or along village roads. The Tai Lue make especially beautiful 'tung' and several nice groupings were on show. (We also have some fine examples available in our Textiles/Thailand section, including one in silk on cotton).

Of the costumes, there was a large variety as befits an ethnic group that has migrated to many different areas. Still, there are distinctive commonalities as can be seen from these photos. One thing always seen is that their tubeskirts comprise two panels sewn together with two side seams, unlike most tubeskirts worn in this region which only have one side seam. This causes stripes in the designs to be horizontal because they have been worked in the weft during the weaving.

They are also known for using the technique of tapestry weave on their tubeskirts and the piece below shows a particularly exuberant example (note the jagged lines bordering the diamonds).

































It was also interesting to see an example of the mysterious 'yantra' textiles being used by the Tai Lue. It appears to have writing in the Lan Na language and sports a very nice rendering of entwined nagas. These textiles were used for protection from malevolent forces and are associated with magic and mysterious spells. We have been collecting and studying them for a number of years and offer some here.



Another genre of textile made famous by the Tai Lue are finely woven bed coverings, which were well represented by the striking pieces grouped here. (An example that we have available is here.)



To round it out, the finale was indeed grand, with dances featuring a 'kinnara' and 'kinnaree' (half human, half bird creatures from mythology)... It made me think I'd died and gone to heaven!



Details: The Bank of Thailand, Northern Region Office,
68/3 Chotana Rd., Chiang Mai
053/931-182 or 183
Open: Monday-Friday 9-12 and 1-4pm (except bank holidays)
It's recommended to call ahead and let them know that you would like to see the collection.

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