The first time that I met embroiderer Famjoy Sealee was in 2012: She had traveled a great distance from her small village in Northern Laos to Santa Fe, New Mexico in America’s desert Southwest. We were both there to attend the
Santa Fe International Folk Art Market on behalf of the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, a cultural museum based in Luang Prabang, Laos.
Famjoy belongs to the Yao Mien ethnic group which is known for their intricate embroidery and traditional dress. They are ethnically Chinese dating back 2,000 to Hunan province. Yao people can be found today in China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
I didn’t see Famjoy again until I visited her in February of 2014. I had been living in Laos for a year. I wanted to see her before I left Laos, so I made a journey from Luang Prabang to her village outside of Muang Sing, near the border of China. Below are the photos from my journey on a rickety bus, meeting Akha people, and in Famjoy’s village.
My little busmate for the 9-hour journey north from Luang Prabang to Luang Namtha. I overnighted in Luang Namtha and arrived in Muang Sing, near the border of China, at the end of my second day of travel. As soon as I had laid down in my bungalow, this Akha woman knocked on my door… Women of the Akha ethnic group wear their wealth as elaborately decorated headdresses. Famjoy’s son picked me up in Muang Sing on the morning of the third day. We drove by motorbike to the Yao village where this woman welcomed us. Famjoy’s house Here she is! Famjoy hard at work. A traditional motif embroidered expertly by Famjoy, a well-respected craftswoman. Yao “x-stitch” embroidery is stitched from the back. Famjoy is very proud that her work is as neat on the back as it is on the front, showing me work from artisans of neighboring tribes to highlight the difference. Appliqué, embroidery, and silver details on a new baby carrier. This will take Famjoy several months to complete. I am wearing a traditional Yao Mien dress – complete with a baby carrier. In modern times, many Yao women choose to wear t-shirts, wrap skirts, or pants which are cooler and easier to hand wash. Only one or two women in Famjoy’s village wear their traditional dress every day. Villagers harvesting sugarcane. I was happy to see young women embroidering in the Yao village. Traditional arts will only continue if younger generations find a livelihood creating these crafts.