A man’s education
Basket weaving was once a craft practiced by all Pwo Karen men. While the women were responsible for weaving the textiles used by their families, it was part of each young man’s education to learn to create the wide variety of baskets needed in every home.
Basket-making is a labour-intensive skill, and for Pwo men it starts with a trek into the mountains to harvest the materials needed: bamboo, rattan, tree fern stems, wild pineapple leaves and other materials.
Only after the lengthy process of splitting and shaving these materials by hand can the basket-maker start the weaving process. From start to finish, making a Pwo Karen basket is the work counted by days, not hours.
Turning back time
In many tribal areas basket-making is one of the first crafts to vanish when villages become connected by roads to the outside world. In Sop Moei district, this decline coincided with the arrival of a new road in 1989. As plastic containers and synthetic bags began to replace baskets, Sop Moei Arts sought to reverse this trend by integrating basketry into its income-generating initiatives.
Sop Moei Arts artisans now weave both traditional Pwo Karen baskets as well as models collected from other tribal areas in Asia, where they have all but disappeared. Encouraging these craftsmen to continue to modify and enhance the baskets ensures that they will always find employment working this traditional craft.