Calendar Pages -- Rosanne Trottier Revitalizing Self-Owned Creativity in Village Weavers: A Project in Khon Kaen Province

March 28th, 2009

Rosanne Trottier Revitalizing Self-Owned Creativity in Village Weavers: A Project in Khon Kaen Province

Date: Saturday, March 28, 2009 10:30 a.m.

Place: Fourth Floor, The Siam Society, 131 Asoke Rd, Sukhumvit 21;

BTS - Asoke; MRT- Sukhumvit

The Thai Textile Society, in association with the Siam Society, invites members and the public to a lecture on “Revitalizing Self-Owned Creativity in Village Weavers: a Project in Khon Kaen Province,” by Dr. Rosanne Trottier on Saturday, March 28, 2009 at 10:30 a.m.

Dr. Trottier, an applied anthropologist and member of the Thai Textile Society, will describe the development of the Sawang Boran Project and the creation of its unique, traditional silks. She will also bring silk products to sell for the benefit of both the project and the Thai Textile Society.

Dr. Trottier began the Sawang Boran Project in 2007 after receiving a gift of traditional Thai silk. She based her approach on the underlying conviction that healthy cultural continuity is central to a wiser sort of ‘development’ - a much neglected but powerful entry point into holistic sustainability of interlocking livelihoods, ecology, social harmony, and local democracy. This conviction seeks to reverse villagers' self-perception as ‘poor’, for they are actually rich in cultural and natural wealth already lost in ‘developed’ places. The challenge is to re-empower such ‘wealth’ – from within and from without, through carefully opening up respectful connections between a formerly self-contained, and now endangered, tradition, and the wider world.

The project began with five older women, whose silk work was an integral part of their self-identity, but they had trouble being 'beginners' in natural dyes late in life, and rather agreed with neighbors and relatives who made fun of messy dye-work and of ‘projects’ in general.

In only three months, however, mysterious colors, good income, and self-confidence did begin to make a difference. Attitudes changed, and soon fifteen more women joined the project. By the end of year one, there were fifty, with a balanced age distribution and a dynamic group of younger women. The waiting list of aspiring members is such that people say Sawang Boran could recruit the whole village, district, or province

Unlike most crafts promotion programs, Sawang Boran seeks only minimal ‘adaptation to the market’, and pursues authentic traditional quality rather than quantity. It has invested most heavily in its best asset, the villagers themselves, their skills and creativity. In its first two years of operation, the venture has experienced an astonishingly intense reawakening of local talent and inventiveness without any outsider 'design' other than Dr. Trottier’s nurturing of each weaver's best abilities. Locally owned creativity resulting in authenticity appeals, on the demand side, to a discerning market frustrated with the standardization of things Asian. On the supply side, it promotes villagers’ happy cultivation of cultural pride and excellence, and the realization that the village, in particular its women, can have economic agency rather than marginal status dependent on industry, migration and hand-outs.

Sawang Boran is also creating its own model of ethical business for the textile tradition and its many-layered values to flourish sustainably, by serving both producers’ and users’ human need for living cultural value. Its silks are the patiently crafted expressions of grassroots sophistication and of deep symbiosis with nature. Most are unique and non-duplicable, and they are all, deliberately in our fast-paced world, the weaving of slow time into pieces as durable today as they were traditionally, in life-long use and as cherished heirlooms. Authentic weavings of today will still ‘speak’ across generational time.

At the end of 2008, Sawang Boran and its home village were selected by the Thai authorities to be accredited with the ‘Golden Peacock’ certification that is granted only to silk produced from purely indigenous breeds and dyed with natural colors. The project has also been honored to receive a visit of a Special Advisor of the Agriculture Ministry and of the Director of the Queen Sirikit Institute of Sericulture, who wish the venture to result in a model silk-making village.

Dr. Trottier is an ex-Mediaeval singer who specialized in rediscovering or reinterpreting female church chant, a linguist, and an applied anthropologist. Her focus is traditional knowledge and what she calls “the vexed issues of tangible-intangible heritage.” She received an M.A. in Slavic Studies from the Sorbonne 1976, and M.A. in Medical Anthropology from the Bobigny School of Medicine in 1997, an M.A. in Sustainable Heritage Management and Development from the Australian National University in 2007, and a Ph.D. in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris in 2004. Her Ph.D. thesis studied the gender dimensions of the Baul of Bengal.

Dr. Trottier has also completed studies in traditional knowledge and cultural expressions such as herbalism, traditional Thai massage, and traditional North Indian music. In the past ten years, she has worked on field or village projects in India, Bangladesh, and Thailand.

Her main publications are The Goddess and the Slave in 2004, Fakir, la quete d'un Baul musulman, and Mystic chants of Hildegard von Bingen, a compact-disc.

The suggested donation is 100 baht for members of the Thai Textile Society and the Siam Society. Members of the public are asked to donate 200 baht.