The Cham people in Cambodia are embarking on a remarkable venture to revive their fading cultural tradition of silk weaving. With the support of TIKA (Turkiye Cooperation and Coordination Agency) and Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), efforts are underway to preserve the intricate silk patterns using the memories passed down by elderly community members.
The aim is to document and reproduce patterns nearly forgotten during the Pol Pot regime.
“The colour of memory represents the faded recollections intertwined with reality and fiction. It symbolises the innovative collaboration between the Documentation Centre of Cambodia and the Turkiye Embassy in researching and reproducing silk,” said Chhang Youk, director of DC-Cam.
The initiative, which has undertaken extensive research and preparation, aims to identify common patterns with the guidance of experienced silk weavers.
The Republic of Turkiye’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has announced an authentic and locally inspired silk pattern representing the Cham ethnic group will soon be designed and produced. This endeavour is taking place in Kampong Cham, where a silk processing workshop has been established. The workshop will serve as a hub for preserving the Cham silk weaving heritage.
In a rustic village, Math Ry, a 63-year-old weaver from Koh Sotin village in Kampong Cham province, skilfully weaves together the threads of tradition and heritage, preserving the rich cultural legacy of the Cham people. Ry acquired her weaving skills from her mother, who herself was a repository of Cham weaving knowledge.
“After the downfall of Pol Pot and my stint as a labourer, I ventured into the weaving industry, a trade that has been carried on for generations in my family. My mother, who has vivid memories of the Cham weavers, passed down this tradition to me,” Ry told The Post.
However, the decline of the silk weaving industry and the passing away of Ry’s mother led her to temporarily abandon her weaving career.
In the past six years, the Cham silk weaving industry has shown signs of recovery, driven by increased customer demand for silk products. Despite financial challenges, the weavers persevere. A Cham woman, responsible for raising her four young granddaughters, weaves intricate skirts that take seven to ten days to complete. She sells each skirt for over $100 to support her family’s basic needs.
Another weaver, Osman Noteni, a 14-year-old girl, had to drop out of school due to financial constraints. She assists her grandmother with weaving tasks and aspires to become a doctor, determined to return to school when the opportunity arises. The passion for weaving is shared among the Cham community, with many weavers like Smas Srey-Yah, 54, expressing concern that the craft may be lost as younger generations pursue different occupations.
To address these challenges, the DC-Cam plans to conduct interviews and introduce innovative weaving techniques to establish a distinct brand for the Cham Muslim community in the global market. The centre aims to involve young Muslims in organising a market for the elderly weavers and ensure the production methods stay true to the Cham tradition.
“We perceive silk as a means to bridge the past and the present, considering the higher number of Cham children compared to the elderly,” explained Youk.
However, economic conditions and low incomes hinder the silk tradition’s revival. DC-Cam has been diligently documenting the memories of Cham weavers and capturing fading patterns through interviews and research.
Despite the challenges, there is hope for the revitalisation of Cham silk weaving. The Cham community’s memories and experiences are being transformed into unique silk patterns. DC-Cam, along with support from Turkiye, is working towards preserving the cultural heritage and creating new opportunities for the Cham people.