Making of: Naga Weaving, Laos
Words by Emily Lush, Photos by Textile de Tours, Video by Khang / Viengkham Nanthavongdouangsy
The Tai Kadai people migrated from southern China into modern-day Laos around 1,200 years ago, bringing with them sericulture, dyeing and silk weaving. The Naga (Phanya Naak or Nguak) is one of the most enduring motifs in ethnic Lao weaving, rendered using intricate chok and supplementary weft techniques.
Taking the form of a water serpent or dragon, the Naga is closely associated with ancestral spirits and is used as a symbol of fertility and human morality. The Naga makes its way into Lao textiles through a range of figurative motifs, including Naga-headed candelabras, repeat lantern and spirit boat patterns, and the rainbow, which represents the Naga’s belly.
Naga motifs are considered the most delicate and prestigious in ethnic Lao textiles. Every weaver is expected to master the patterns and their associated techniques. Nagas can be portrayed through Matmee ikat or supplementary weft weaving. Naga patterns also appear in chok weaving, a technique where multiple coloured threads are inserted between the rows of warp thread to create a dynamic finish similar to embroidery or carpet weaving.
The Naga is typically portrayed in contrasting colours, with white yarn used for the Naga’s body and bold tones of red, green and gold used for the crest. Many of Laos’ vocational training centres and textile development organisations, including Ock Pop Tok in Luang Prabang, put an emphasis on re-teaching the natural dyes and supplementary weft techniques required to preserve and modernise traditional Naga designs.