Residents of secluded Ban Sanuan Nok, located some 15 kilometers east of downtown Buriram, have earned an enviable reputation for their silk cloth. The local silk cloth is characterised by elaborate patterns and design influenced by their Cambodian heritage. The village has opened up to tourism which supplements incomes and spreads the word about the distinct cultural fashion. (Photos by Phitsanu Thepthong)
Tourism brings a lot of changes in many impoverished areas, but often it is restricted to high-profile attractions. With the villagers of Ban Sanuan Nok, it is quite different.
An influx of tourists into the area has seen the value of their hand-woven silk rise quite dramatically, supplementing their meagre incomes.
Many families have turned to weaving silk as a sideline job, which they sell for extra income. However, in addition to the money from the sale, they believe a new revenue stream could be had from bringing tourists to the village to witness the silk-making process as the tourism can generate cash flow for the local economy.
Both Thai and foreign tourists visit the village for a tour where they learn first-hand about Thai silk production, from thread picking from silk worm cocoons to weaving. The visitors also see for themselves the simple life of villagers, local methods of delegating manpower and utilising human resources, as well as the management of the community.
“Today, visitors make trips to the village in diverse groups, including pilgrims. They observe the hand-made silk production and other handicrafts available for display and for sale,” said the village assistant head.
She went on to say that silk produced by the village requires the skills and meticulous hands of trained weavers. The amount of thread and the weaving technique must be precise to ensure top-quality fabric.
She also noted that the indigenous silk production has been done by the village for decades, dating back to the time she was born. To her, the silk forms the cornerstone of the local heritage.
However, selling silk cloth alone sometimes does not make very much marketing sense and that is where the Buri Ram Rajabhat University has been enlisted to help train the housewives into getting creative and turning the silk into material for purses, handbags, key holders and household items.
Visitors are shown around the village where they watch mulberry leaves being gathered from the fields to feed the silkworms. When the worms mature, they spin cocoons which are boiled before the silk strands are pulled and collected in yarns. The threads are then dyed in different colours and reeled onto bobbins, ready for weaving into fabrics.
The silk fabrics of Ban Sanuan Nok bear the signature pha lai hang krarok pattern, which replicates the look of a squirrel’s tail. This is an ancient design rooted in the traditional cultural identity.
Local residents mainly farm paddy rice but in their free time, they raise silkworms and feed them with leaves of the mulberry trees. At present, 148 families live in Ban Sanuan Nok.
The village has also designated an area for homestay lodgings where visitors can spend the night in Thai-style houses.
The villagers accept that they need to make certain concessions as they have to be accommodating to the visitors while making sure they can preserve the authenticity of the local cultural heritage and way of life.
All the villagers live together like one big family. After they finish farming rice, the women get settled onto their looms and weave the silk cloth. Other women plant and water the mulberry trees .
Opening up to tourism has taught the locals about the division of labour and delegation of duties and to be systematic with their work.
They have received training from outside experts on manpower and resources management for maximum productivity and what can be done to add more value to locally produced commodities.
About 30 housewives were recently trained to be creative with the silk cloth they have and make souvenirs or personal items out of them. The sale of the items brings in supplementary income, which helps mitigate the impact of the financial woes on the families in times of depressed rice prices.
Ban Sanuan Nok is now part of a network of silk villages on the tourism map. The network spans six villages in Buri Ram, according to to their spokesperson.
A representative of Buri Ram Rajabhat University said that housewives in communities were trained to engage in supplementary professions for greater financial security.
Credit to Bangkok Post and writer Phitsanu Thepthong