Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium (2004)


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


The healing cloths of Xam Nuea, Laos P. D. R. were once used in ceremonies conducted by shamans who traveled to the other realms in trance to seek cures. These textiles embodied powerful symbols of the animal and supernatural world, beliefs that held strong despite the invasions of the Chinese Ho, the Siamese, and even the establishment of French Indochina. However, during the American-Vietnam war weaving was made impossible in the northeast region and many people, including shamans, fled to Vientiane. Here new communities flourished, weaving elaborate textiles in the Xam Nuea style, which later became the newest fashion after the revolution. The market for textiles in Vientiane provided a ready income for weavers and the Xam Nuea healing cloths, which had never previously been woven for sale, became popular with the Vientiane Lao as shoulder cloths to wear to the temple. Buddhist as well as Western aesthetics changed the original structures from two distinct decorative ends with different patterns to symmetric form. New colour ways were produced and sizes changed, but the original symbols were maintained, albeit the young weavers did not know their meaning. Many of the new products were made for interior decorations in homes scattered across the globe. Today these cloths are cut up to make garments for foreign royalty and are incorporated into Thai high fashion. The ingenuity of the weavers themselves as well as foreign entrepreneurs created these innovations, an evolution that is still continuing. The power of the cloths has prevailed in most cases, capturing the imagination of the buyers through their unspoken ancient knowledge.