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PostPosted: Fri Sep 11, 2009 8:44 pm 

Joined: Thu Jul 30, 2009 8:34 pm
Posts: 23
Location: Amsterdam

I am posting five examples of wrap-around skirts woven by the closely related Southern Bahnaric-speaking Maa, Mnong and Stieng ethnic groups from the Central Highlands of Vietnam. These skirts are described and illustrated in Howard and Howard (2002) "Textiles of the Central Highlands of Vietnam".

These skirts were purchased in 2002-2004 from various shops in Hanoi. I have seen several hundred of these skirts and I collected several dozen characteristic examples. At the time the shopkeepers claimed that they were either from the Maa, Mnong or Stieng, but there did not seem to be any motifs associated with particular groups. The five selected here cover the most common motifs. I estimate that they cover a time span from the mid-1960s to the 1990s, and they are still woven today, yet of lesser quality. The skirts I date to the 1970s depict military machinery, troops, flags, guns etc. and were likely woven during the American war in Vietnam, although these motifs were also copied in later weavings. They remind me of Afghan carpets woven during the Russian occupation.

They usually measure about 70-80 X 140-160 cm. and are sewn from three panels - a brightly colored and boldly patterned central panel bordered by a pair of darker (usually black) with warp stripe patterning. Most commonly the two edge strips are cut from the same warp, but sometimes the skirt is assembled from three different warps. Often the side panels also have matching weft pattern stripes. All are woven with chemically died, machine spun cotton yarn.

I am particularly attracted to these textiles because of the bright and bold motifs and complex construction. Although they vary widely in color, the motifs seem to fall into just a few groups. A skirt can feature just one motif or a selection of several. The central panel is often finished with a contrasting pattern at each end; and the skirts are often trimmed with yarn tufts. The hemmed ends are usually rolled and stitched or bound with an edging.

001 is sewn from three different warps. Note that the stripes do not match in the two edge panels. The central panel consists mostly of two patterns with a border at one end. The colors change throughout the length of the cloth which is characteristic of these skirts. Note the small human figures and yarn tufts along the top hem.

002 features the concentric lozenges and crosses motif for the full length. Once again, note the small human figures and military motifs along the top hem as well as in the centers of the lozenges and yarn tufts along the top hem and left selvage.

006 also features nested lozenges, but they are separated by the common "I" and "X" motifs. The hemmed and lower selvage (skirt hem) edges are trimmed with tufts. This skirt is similar to "183. Maa, Ngan sub-group" n Howard and Howard.

012 features a motif similar to the middle motif in 001.

014 features a strikingly contrasting pattern of shifted diamonds forming an interlocking pattern. The pattern at the bottom end is another common motif. Several variations of these motifs are found in these skirts. This skirt is similar to "166. Maa, Da Dung sub-group", but is also similar in motifs to "132. Mnong, Preh sub-group" in Howard and Howard.

Does any of you have these textiles in your collection? Do you know any more about them? Which motifs were used by which groups and sub-groups? What do the motifs represent? Does anyone have copies of te original research papers cited by the Howards?

Anyway, I'm just hoping to generate some interest and learn more about these striking textiles. I can post more if anyone is interested...


File comment: Vietnam Central Highlands Skirt 001
VNCntHglnd-RC001TTF.jpg [ 119.05 KiB | Viewed 5819 times ]
File comment: Vietnam Central Highlands Skirt 002
VNCntHglnd-RC002TTF.jpg [ 129.08 KiB | Viewed 5819 times ]
File comment: Vietnam Central Highlands Skirt 006
VNCntHglnd-RC006TTF.jpg [ 121.48 KiB | Viewed 5819 times ]
File comment: Vietnam Central Highlands Skirt 012
VNCntHglnd-RC012TTF.jpg [ 108.48 KiB | Viewed 5819 times ]
File comment: Vietnam Central Highlands Skirt 014
VNCntHglnd-RC014TTF.jpg [ 102.04 KiB | Viewed 5819 times ]

Robert C. Clarke
Textile Collector and Researcher
International Hemp Association - Projects Manager
Society for Economic Botany - Life Member
Textile Society of America - Member
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 11, 2009 11:07 pm 

Joined: Thu Jul 17, 2008 2:51 am
Posts: 69
Location: New York

Fabulous pieces. Love the top one.

I'd email Ms. Nguyen Thi Nhung or Dr. Mark S. Rapoport at 54 Traditions Gallery in Hanoi They were selling some of these - and, I think, preparing them for an exhibition when I was there in March, 2008. I believe that he speaks at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, which is another place you might try reaching out to. I just flipped through a couple of books that I bought there but didn't see them - you might want to look at the books that they publish and see if there are any worth buying, in hopes of learning more.

Good luck!


 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Sep 12, 2009 7:57 pm 
Site Admin

Joined: Sun Jun 29, 2003 1:42 pm
Posts: 2001
Location: Canterbury, UK

Thanks very much indeed for sharing these skirts with us. I agree with Anna that probably your best bet might be the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology IF you could get to the right person AND could communicate! I know that Michael Howard is in close touch with the Museum. He has done research in the Central Highlands. Have you seen his 2008 book 'A World between the Warps: Southeast Asia;'s Supplementary Warp Textiles', published by White Lotus and No 12 in the Studies of Material Cultures of Southeast Asia No. 12, the series edited by Michael Howard. Page 166, Plates 378 and 379 show a skirt which is part of the 'genre' of your skirts. This one is Maa, Ngan sub-group...with location. As this book is featuring supplementary warp he is particularly interested in the the sup warp bands in the bands at the sides of the skirt (central piece, supplementary weft). Looking at your skirts I can see examples of supplementary warp in all of them. It is the central band which first hits the eye in your skirts but these warp stripes are certainly worth looking at. Howard refers to
'The outer pieces (of the three woven bands of the skirt) are decorated with bands of alternating warp float patterning, including blue and white bands that use thick handspun blue thread with thin commercial white thread.'

I have had a look through my books published via the Museum but the ones I have are very cursory about any but the most well known of the '54' minorities in Vietnam. I haven't looked recently on the website of (in Canada) who are pretty good at getting books from Vietnam and have certainly widened out from art to ethnography.

Certainly it is so much more difficult to find information on the minority groups of the Central Highlands than of the NW of Vietnam. I too am attracted to the textiles and have several but not any quite like the skirts that you show. Great to see them here!


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