TurkoTek Discussion Boards

Subject  :  Ambiguity and double meanings in Laotian textiles
Author  :  Steve Price
Date  :  12-16-1999 on 09:42 a.m.
sprice@hsc.vcu.edu Dear People, The T'ai group of tribespeople in Laos do some fantastic ikat and supplementary weft work, and their aesthetic is quite different from what we are accustomed to seeing in central and western Asian textiles. Among the characteristics of T'ai group weavings are motifs that have intentionally distracting splashes of color within them that make the form a little more difficult to pick out, and motifs that are symbols with double meanings. This is a detail of a central motif in a T'ai Daeng shaman's head or shoulder shawl (there seems to be some lack of unanimity among the few experts on which it is). At first, what you most likely see is a bird with beak open. If you spend just a little more time with it, you will see a pair of mythical creatures, elephant-nosed lions, arranged with one facing up and the other facing down, joined at the head so that the "trunks" of the lions form the beak of the bird. This isn't secrecy, but is conceptually related to the notion of concealing parts of a motif (or, at least, I think it is). I apologize for the quality of the image. It is done from a 35 mm slide; I don't have a very good slide scanner. Regards, Steve Price

Subject  :  RE:
Author  :  Patrick+Weiler
Date  :  12-16-1999 on 11:23 p.m.
jpweil00@gte.net Steve, I see the two images you point out on the t'ai textile. I do not see the inherent cultural meaning of the double-image, though, since I am not familiar with the iconography of the culture. There could very well be a common interpretation of this symbol and, additionally, a "secret" meaning, neither of which are evident from looking, but which , perhaps, would have been discernible by one immersed in the culture. As far as I know, the pre-Columbian weavings, of cultures without an otherwise "written" language, are some of the most mysterious, incomprehensible and enigmatic of any. The secrets of which could have meant the difference between life and death. I have a hard time understanding my taxes. A Shaman from H&R Block can help me with them, though. If I misinterpreted the meaning of a religious weaving I might have been sacrificed to the Alpaca gods. Patrick Weiler

Subject  :  RE: Laotian iconography
Author  :  Steve Price
Date  :  12-17-1999 on 06:27 a.m.
sprice@hsc.vcu.edu Dear Patrick, Sorry I didn't say more about the significance of the iconography. The Ta'i, like almost every cultural group on the planet, found/find birds mysterious and special. I suspect this is because birds, of all the animals groups, can do something that people can't even do badly (at least, couldn't until the 20th century) - they can fly. The elephant-nosed lion is a common symbol there; you can see heads of a few of them in the detail image. I'm sorry to say that I don't know the meaning attached to it although strength, ferocity and a prominent phallicism suggest themselves. Steve Price

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