Thai Tribal Craft
Thai Tribal Crafts, based in Chiang Mai, markets handcrafts made in Northern Thailand ranging from jewellery, wooden games, home décor to accessories. The objective of Thai Tribal Crafts is to provide opportunities for improving the quality of life of the tribal people in northern Thailand. To achieve this objective, their goals are
• to be a non-profit but self-sustaining agency
• to operate under the principles of fair trade
• to preserve the traditional arts and crafts of tribal people
• to provide advice and training for the producers on quality control as well as creating new designs.
Thai Tribal became a member of the WFTO in 2002 and has operated under the principles of fair trade ever since with their main goal being to pay the producers the highest price as possible and sell the products at a price that is just adequate to meet operational expenses. Any financial gain realised beyond the basic needs goes back to the tribal people in the form of benefits. Trade is based on equality and fairness.
Currently, Thai Tribal Crafts works with seven hill tribe groups of northern Thailand: the Akha, Hmong, Karen, Lahu, Lawa, Lisu and Mien groups, as well as several wood producers working in and around Chiangmai. About 85-90% of their approximately 400 producers are women, who live in 51 villages in remote mountain areas in northern Thailand. These people are disadvantaged by their remoteness, and by their status as tribal minorities. They have only limited access to land, schools and means of employment. Many artisans support themselves by growing crops on what land they have; but supplementary income from handicrafts is very important to subsidise basic family income, in order to meet education and health costs.
The different tribal groups have distinctive languages and customs, and the preservation of the rich cultural heritage of the different groups is important for their sense of identity. These tribal peoples are not the original peoples of Thailand, having come over the borders mostly ahead of political disturbances. They have settled over the whole area, including Burma, China, Laos and Cambodia. Many of those living in Thailand still do not have identity papers, although their children who were born in Thailand do. In many cases they also do not have title to the land they are living on and cultivating.
Since 1973, Thai Tribal Crafts has promoted the skills and products of these tribal artisans, and helped them export their handicrafts overseas. The organisation provides its workers with training in quality control and designing products for the international market.
When Naree, one of the artisans from Thai Tribal Crafts Fair Trade, was asked what would happen if she didn’t have a chance to be the artisan, she said, "I am afraid and didn’t have opportunity to work at other places because I cannot read and write in Thai. I even cannot speak well today. So, I have to stay in the mountain areas and struggle life as farmers. Through Thai Tribal Crafts, I can help my husband and support our Children especially for their education. So, I am really thankful to all fair trade buyers”
In addition to the Tribal groups, TTC works with wood carvers from northern Thailand and a local rehabilitation centre for leprosy patience and disabled people.
Oun Wongwiang is one of such talented wood workers. Read his story below:
Wongwiang Handicraft was established in 1987 by Mr. Oun Wongwiang and his friends, who were leprosy patients at the McKeane Rehabilitation Centre Chiang Mai. Oun Wongwiang grew up in a small hut at the back of his Bangkok home. No-one came to visit him, other than to leave food outside the door. His family shunned him because he had leprosy and scared that they would catch the disease if they got too close. Oun learnt about McKean Rehabilitation Centre in Chiang Mai and stayed there until he was 24. Treatment for his condition came too late to prevent his hands and feet being disfigured by the disease.
Oun and his friends realised the hardship and poverty faced by many former leprosy patients due to stigmatisation, lack of education and income. With his knowledge of woodwork, learned while at the Centre he set out to become independent and self-sufficient, with the aim to improve the life quality and living standard of ex-leprosy patients and their families by providing vital and sustainable incomes through the sales of hand carved wood products.
Over 20 years and with the assistance of Thai Tribal, the group has been developing their skills and productivity, making handicrafts which can compete on the world market in quality and standards whilst promoting traditional Thai handicrafts. Today, 20 families of former leprosy patients who are living in villages around Chiang Mai, Lampoon and Lampang provinces are involved with the Wongwiang Handicraft Projects.
Income generated will assist children to go to school; someone to obtain medical care and will contribute to improve the living standard of the people who were once leprosy patients.
Thai Tribal Craft