STIRRING TRADITION

Discovering the ancestral tradition of indigo dyeing and batik with H’mong people.

Réhahn on August 07,2017 02:51 PM

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Ms Sung Y Xia in Pa Co village

In July, photographer Réhahn visited a H’mong ethnic minority group in Pa Co, a village in northern Hoa Binh province. He met Sung Y Xia, a 39-year-old woman perpetuating the art of indigo dyeing and batik drawing. She has been practicing it since she was 15 and has now become an expert, though being much younger than most batik masters. Indeed, Sung Y Xia represents hope for the continued transmission of this centuries-old knowledge. All around Pa Co are localities that still make the beautiful blue-tinted fabric for sale in Hanoi. And the growing interest in ethnic culture worldwide presents great financial opportunities for these groups.

Obtaining a good indigo dye requires a lot of experience as well as quality ingredients, starting with water from clean streams. The tedious preparation of the dye itself takes from ten days to one month.

After harvesting, indigo trees leaves are soaked in a water container. After three days, they are removed and the indigo-coloured water is kept, with lime then added. The liquid is stirred until a green-yellow layer appears on the surface, after a few hours.

After the sediment falls to the bottom of the barrel, it’s mixed with ash from quality wood, water, rice soup, and alcohol for four to five days. Water is added again and the concoction mixed until bubbles appear; the sign of a successful process.

Once the dye is ready, the batik starts, a process that takes one to two months. The master boils beeswax and draws patterns with it on the hemp fabric, using a special tool. The fabric is then soaked into the concoction and dried in the sun. The operation is repeated until the colour sought appears. The beeswax lines are removed, to finally reveal the drawings.

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