Weaving – a traditional craft of Ma people

May 22nd 2016.

Living in the natural resource-rich mountains of rattan,  bamboo…  knitting weaving craft soon appeared and became quite popular in the Ma community.

Since the ancient times,  wicker products were tied to the life of the Ma as a matter of course From the walls and floor of the long house;  then the mats not only used for sleeping but also for burial,  the papoose,  the shield,  pickaxes and fishing tools,  are the instruments to be used in agricultural production;  to the very small living things such as jewelry boxes,  bags of chilli,  rice containers, .All widgets are indispensable in the life of the Ma.

From the bamboos,  and other bamboo species,  through the skillful hands and great creative minds of the male Ma,  many items for family daily life are made very sophisticated with different and useful shapes.  Everybody of the Ma community can knit and weave,  for this is the criterion for the girls to choose their mate.  We can say that knitting and weaving has brought unique imprints,  reflecting the ingenuity of Ma boys.

Although knitting and weaving is not quite hard work,  it requires deft,  scrupulousness in every stage,  from material preparation through product completion.

bamboo weaving products

bamboo weaving products

Material Selection and Processing

The material for weaving/knitting is usually taken from nature in the surrounding hills and mountains,  including bamboo species(bamboo,  bambusabalcooa,…  or vines(rattan,  sedge,  forest climbers…).  Additionally,  there are types of tree bark(ginseng,  rose myrtle,  wild ambarella,  bombax ceiba…),  these tree barks are soft but have good toughness to be used as straps or soles.

These materials are selected by actual knitting experience.  People often choose bamboo trees aged 3 years or more,  because young bamboos are often very brittle,  easy to be broken and they chop bamboos only on the last day of the month when there is no moon,  because on the first days of the month bamboos contain lots of water and it is time-consuming to dry and bamboos tend to be eaten by weevils.  For rattan,  they take old rattan climbing up tall trees,  having yellow or green color to ensure ductility.  Meanwhile the rattan and bamboos must be straight and long so when knitting people do not need to tie up lots of segments.

After having got rattan,  bamboo,  people will embark on sharpening spokes.  Spoke-  sharpening is also the decisive factor to complete a beautiful product;  thus requiring experience from makers.  Splitting thin or thick spokes depends on the products to be knitted/woven.  Spoke sharpening completed,  the spokes must ensure softness,  smooth and even,  to avoid gaps while knitting.  The sharpened spokes will be hung over the kitchen oven for a definite time before knitting.

Creating product shapes and patterns

With knitting technique…  combined with complicated and creative style,  the Ma have created a wide range of various products,  from containers,  means of transportation to some items used in rituals,  with rich product design,  for instance:  papoose of various kinds having cylindrical body and square bottom;  leaf-shaped flat basket(or heart-  shaped flat basket);  rounded mouth and square sole rice basket;  circular cylindrical fish cage;  henhouse of various kinds(with rectangular bottom;  or cubic shape…  And contless other shapes).  Depending on each kind of products,  the Ma use different knitting techniques.  Knitting papoose with lid is the most difficult task,  the lid must be knitted by oblique knitting techniques which is most complicated and difficult,  not everybody can do it.

The floral motifs on wicker products of the Ma are often some simple black circles with large distances running around the body and the mouth portion of the papoose.  Or the dog nail patterns tortoise shells running the contour of mats,  or rice containers The floral patterns on the Ma knitwear are limited to two basic colors:  natural color of rattan,  bamboo,  black bamboo and black color is dyed from flowers,  fruits,  leaves growing in the forests or smoked.

We can say that with skill and diligence,  the Ma have blown the “soul”  into rattan,  bamboo creating simple but useful products,  bearing cultural imprints of their people with the type of designs and decorations on these products.

Although the job does not provide regular income for the family,  wicker/rattan products have become the essential items for the Ma’s daily lives.  Consequently,  knitting profession has passed from generation to generation.  Today,  in many tourist attractions of Da Lat,  sellers hang pretty baskets,  papoose made by the native people,  for tourists to take photos and buy jewelry boxes or small rice containers as souvenirs for tourists when they visit the Central Highlands.

By Thanh Binh

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