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  • Working Group Participants: Ms. Linina Phuttitarn, Ms. Sophea Ton, Ms. Ning Shen, Mr. Ngawang, Ms. Eleni Protopapa (Intern), Dr. Christina Kreps (Resource Person), Ms. Michelle Stefano (Resource Person) Background of Ton Kaew Monastery and Yong Textiles (Text from the Working Group Brochure)

    “In 1805, King Kavila, Chiang Mai ruler commanded his brother Phra Maha Upparacha Boonthawong, to bring back people, who were mostly of Tai Lue ethnic groups, from Yong City in Shan State, currently a region in Myanmar, to Chiang Mai, Lampang, and Lamphun. The name of the village “Ban Wieng Yong” derives from the name of their hometown, Yong City in Shan State.  The people from Yong City brought with them many of their traditions, beliefs and practices, to their new home.

    As time passed by, the rapidly changing socioeconomic environment has led to several changes in the Yong traditions and practices. However, there are groups of people who still retain their own Yong identity and cultural practices, including the practice of Yong language and weaving skills.

    Wat Ton Kaew Museum is located in Wat Ton Kaew Temple, Moo 3, Ban Wieng Yong Subdistrict of Lamphun, a province in the North of Thailand.  The temple is assumed to have moved from Don Kaew Temple, which was founded in 1282 during the reign of Phra Nang Chao Chamadevi, the first ruler of the Lamphun Kingdon and who built the city. Wat Ton Kaew Temple on the new site was built in 1987 by the Abbot Phra Krue Pisarn Theerakhun. Unlike other temples, Wat Ton Kaew Temple plays a role similar to a museum such as collecting rare and antique items (e.g. Yong’s woven cloth, Buddha images, amulets, kitchenware, and manuscripts) regarding the local history. In 2008, a new traditional Yong house was built in Wat Ton Kaew Temple from the local donations, housing a small exhibition of Yong traditional textile, woven cloth and also weaving activities. The most famous pieces of woven fabric are Chao Mae Fong Kham’s 106 year old wrap-around skirt and Mae Bua Kieaw’s wrap-around skirt.

    The original Yong textiles were simpler and plainer than the Yok Dok styles, which were later introduced by the Royal Court during the reign of King Rama V.  Currently, the cotton textile weaving activities are still practiced in Wat Ton Kaew, supported by the Abbot Phra Kru Pisarn Theerakhun, who is considered as the builder, collector, and curator, as well as an important figure in maintaining, preserving and protecting Yong traditional textile weaving and pattern making. In this respect, he has been given awards for his contributions to safeguarding local heritage, including the Yok Dok weaving tradition.

    Another significant value of this place comes from the master weaving skills of Yong experienced weavers who gather here every day to produce beautiful and high quality textiles. The designs themselves are also highly praised for their creativity coming from the gifted local designer, Tanat Sitthichai, whose inspiration have been influenced by the precious art skills passed on from his parents.

    The Wat Ton Kaew weaving community also serves to educate and promote the beautiful Yong cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, to the public. Here, visitors will learn to appreciate different precious hand-woven textile patterns as well as the unmatched skills from weavers with more than 50 years of experience.”

    Fieldwork Process and Key Findings

    On the first day of fieldwork, the working group’s primary task was to learn about the historical and cultural background of the community, and the role of the monastery museum. From their interviews with the Abbot Phaisan-Teerakhun, the working group learned that Ton Kaew monastery serves as the social and cultural centre for a community of ethnic Yong (Wieng Yong) who migrated from Muang Yong in Burma to present-day Lamphun circa 200 years ago. As a strong proponent for the maintenance and revival of Yong cultural identity,the Abbot was particularly concerned about the transmission of Yong culture and language to the next generation, as many young people no longer speak Yong or practice ethnic Yong culture, such as weaving.  In order to preserve and transmit ethnic Yong culture and history, in 1987, the Abbot began to collect traditional ethnic Yong household objects and artifacts donated by the Wieng Yong community. This collection of artifacts is presently displayed in an old monk’s living quarters (kutti) which has been converted into a museum. In 2003, the Abbot received financial support from the Lamphun Provincial Authority to build a second museum to house additional collections. Today, this second structure houses religious objects, e.g., wooden Buddha images, clay amulets, scripture chests, lacquer ware, wooden food trays, wickerwork, tobacco pipes, old photos, and swords; as well as a range of household implements.

    Since 1998, the monastery has also served as a weaving learning center, the office of a weaving group of senior weavers, a community learning center and a cultural center focusing on ethnic Yong culture. In 2008, the monastery completed a new museum building modeled on traditional Yong vernacular architecture that houses the weaving cooperative and a permanent exhibit about Yong weaving. According to the Abbot, headman and other local residents who attended the first meeting, the core role of the new museum was to preserve and transmit knowledge of Yong weaving through weaving demonstrations, educate people (especially younger generations) about Yong culture, and encourage pride in Yong identity. Regular visitors to the museum included tourists (both Thai and international), worshippers, and school children.

    Through their inventory of ICH on the second day of fieldwork, the working group learned that the ethnic Yong of Ton Kaew are the bearers of a rich intangible cultural heritage, including Buddhist ceremonies, oral histories and ritual practices, folkdances, and handicrafts. Through consultation with members of the Ton Kaew community, including the Abbot, the headman (Mr. Manu), and a group of senior local residents, the working group selected Yong weaving as the element of ICH for their final project.

    The working group undertook research and documentation (photographs, audio interviews, fieldnotes) with members of the weaving group, the Abbot and the textile pattern designer, Mr. Thanat Sittichai. They learned that orginally, ethnic Yong patterns were simple and plain, and that weaving patterns became more elaborate and complex during the period of King Rama V (1853-1910), when the “yok dok” pattern was brought to the North by the Royal Consort, Chao Dara Rasami.  The working group learned that the introduction of new “yok dok” motifs led to changes in the significance and value of Yong weaving, since textiles were no longer being produced primarily for use in the family but rather were being produced  for elites (noble families) to be worn on special occasions. The role of pattern designers also became important during this period, since the design of yok dok patterns required special skills and expertise. As such, Yong weavers came to rely on the patterns of a designer.

    Project Outputs (Recommendations for Safeguarding ICH)

    One of the key needs of the museum identified by Abbot was English language documentation and labeling. Through their survey of existing documentation about Ton Kaew Monastery, the working group learned that there were in fact several sources of information in both English and Thai featuring Ton Kaew and the Weaving Center. Most of these materials were produced with the financial support of the national Thai Khem Khaeng initiative. However, as the Abbot pointed out, he still did not have an English language brochure for the regular visitors to the monastery, and the museum also lacked English language labeling. In response to this need, the working group developed an English language brochure introducing Yong weaving and the Ton Kaew monastery. The working group has also agreed to assist (with the support of SAC) with English language labeling.

    The working group also offered a range of recommendations aimed at supporting the safeguarding of Yong weaving at Ton Kaew monastery. First of all, the group suggested that the monastery should endeavor to develop a wider network to promote activities at the monastery. This network could include: the local monastery network, Lamphun Provincial Authority, the Thai Tourism Authority, Lamphun Cultural Office, One District One Product (OTOP), weaving festivals and the Wieng Yong School. The group further suggested that the monastery’s cultural activities could be promoted through the development of more PR materials, such as a website, radio and television, and that the monastery could be featured on Lamphun provincial websites as well.

    In their interviews with students at Wiang Yong school, the group found that many young members of the community were interested in learning more about Yong weaving and acquiring weaving skills with the senior weavers; however, they lacked the space and materials (especially a loom) where they could try weaving without fear of making mistakes. Therefore, in order to support intergenerational transmission of Yong weaving skills, the working group recommended several activities as follows: a) Establish a  learning center at WatTon Kaew to educate students, the community, and general public; b) provide a loom for weaving training targeting students and visitors; c)make weavers available for demonstrations; d)offer art classes about designing Yok Dok, targeting students and design lovers; and e) provide an exhibition space for textile examples and related information.

    There were three general categories of intended audience for the working group’s suggested activities. The first intended audience was the Wieng Yong School and community, and there the aim was to raise awareness and enhance a sense of identity and encourage the transmission of cultural practices. The second audience was visitors and textiles lovers from other villages and regions, and here the aim was to share knowledge and education, especially the values of Yong Yok Dok textiles and Yong culture, and to encourage general support to the monastery. The third group was the provincial and local government authorities, who could help promote and support the community to continue their weaving activities. In terms of challenges and potential impacts, the group noted that one key issue was the question of the monastery’s capacity to manage the suggested activities and an increased influx of students and visitors. Given the limited human resources of the museum, it was suggested that the museum keepers recruit more volunteers to assist with the management and implementation of activities (i.e. tours and inventories of objects), as well as maintenance of the museum and monastery grounds.



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