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Collection

An image of 'Phaa biang' (ceremonial scarf) by
Alternate image of 'Phaa biang' (ceremonial scarf) by Alternate image of 'Phaa biang' (ceremonial scarf) by

Sam Nuea, Laos

Title
'Phaa biang' (ceremonial scarf)
Place of origin
Sam NueaLaos
Cultural origin
Tai Nuea people
Year
late 19th century-early 20th century
Media category
Textile
Materials used
silk, natural dyes; continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft decoration
Dimensions

45.4 x 187.0 cm

Credit
Gift of Nomadic Rug Traders 2003
Accession number
218.2003
Location
Not on display
Further information

Lao-Tai women wrap 'phaa biang' cloths around one shoulder and the torso. These cloths are also used for healing practices ('phaa sabai'), as head wraps ('phaa khan soeng'), and as shoulder cloths ('phaa phai'). As a curative cloth, the textile was believed to be powerful enough to help the healing process through its combination of colours and motifs. Phaa biang are composed of several sections, and as sections become worn, they are replaced with new weavings.

This 'phaa biang' has red warp and weft yarns. The cream yarns are the continuous decoration that was added during the weaving process, and form the concentric lozenge (horizontal diamond) shape that is called' kaap khoam' (lantern). The pattern not only symbolises light, but Buddhists consider it to be the opening of the third eye bringing knowledge and enlightenment. This is probably a remnant of Mahayana and Tantric Buddhist ideas and is evidence of their presence in Southeast Asia before the societies became strongly Theravada Buddhist. The other end of the textile has more varied decoration. The cream yarns are continuous supplementary weft threads, and the coloured ones are discontinuous supplementary weft threads, which means that they occupy a limited section and do not travel across the entire piece of cloth. The decoration at this end of the 'phaa biang' includes geometric and stylised motifs, particularly 'kuut' (ferns), 'mae nyaa mor' (newts), house gables ('kaap'), an elephant-bird with an ancestor on its back ('saang hong'), and a zigzag line that represents an abstract 'naga' (mythical serpent). Birds, elephants, and snakes are important animals in the Lao belief system, and are therefore popular designs on textiles and other art forms.

Asian Art Department, AGNSW, December 2011