Weaving has been at the heart of Hmong tradition for a very long time. The Hmong are one of the many ethnic minority groups scattered throughout mainly Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and China. Ha Giang province, Vietnam, is home to a reasonably larger number of Hmong as compared to the rest of the country. Adorned in colourful handmade textiles and tassels, the women of this ethnic minority are easy to spot against the smokey grey mountainous backdrop of northern Vietnam in the winter.
As our changing world continues to spiral forward becoming more globalized with each passing day, it is small ethnic groups such as the Hmong that are at risk of permanently losing long standing traditions as their teachings are lost with deceased elders and forgotten by the younger generations. Unfortunately, this occurs all too often. This is why Co Mai founded the Hop Tien Linen Co-operative in Lung Tam, Ha Giang, a small town tucked off of the main highway of the Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop.
The co-operative was established in 1999 when Mai noticed a downward trend of Hmong traditional clothing in young girls, who were becoming less interested in learning the skills and knowledge used to produce the clothing that was traditionally passed on by the older generations. Realizing the potential of the complex and colourful textiles, Mai opened the co-operative with a goal of passing on these skills to future generations and producing high quality products.
Today, tradition continues to flourish in Lung Tam, with the co-operative being comprised of over 130 people. Not only is this thriving group of women assuring that they are preserving and promoting their long-standing traditions, it also means that there are 130 women that are earning a decent income! This hugely improves the standard of living of the families of Lung Tam, who live in one of the country’s poorest provinces.
As a visitor a Hop Tien Linen Co-operative, you are given a free tour of one of the establishments used in the process of creating the products. Here, you are shown how the material is made starting with the raw hemp straw and all the way to the final dyed product. The tedious process that goes into creating the final product is comprised of many steps using an array of tools. As the guide walks you through the process, you are given the time and freedom to learn and understand the work that is put into each textile.
After you have been shown around, the guide will likely invite you across the street to the shop where you can buy some of their handmade products. Popular items in their store include cushion covers, table runners, wall
hangings, purses and change purses. While there is no pressure to buy anything (which is currently a problem among the ethnic minorities found in the next province over in the tourist heavy Sapa) it seems fair to at the very least buy a homemade change purse (~$2USD) as a thanks for the tour.
Leaving the Hop Tien Linen Co-operative you are likely to feel humbled and lighthearted by your experience. It is an excellent model for how communities can bring in money while keeping tradition alive. As a visiting foreigner, you are privileged with learning of their culture and contributing to a community of hard working people. The added bonus is coming away with a small souvenir as a reminder of your visit and the tediously hard work that is put into making these textiles.
A photo series of the weaving process: