Women wove in the shock and trauma of the disaster are evident.
Women were then and remain today the backbone of Lao society, said Linda McIntosh, a textile specialist in Luang Prabang, Laos.
The women were not only responsible for managing the household and raising children, but they were also responsible for making all the family's clothes.
The job was more than just a job, it was more than just a task. Weaving gave women an outlet to express what they were thinking, about this life and the next.
The traditional fabrics incorporate symbols of the everyday, such as rainstorms, birds and beetles, with those connected to the afterlife, such as mangoes, elephants and ancestor deities.
This is their vocabulary, Brennan said, who visits Laos regularly and whose company, Caring for Textiles, consults on conservation efforts worldwide. They re not writing poetry or books or taking photos. It was probably near the end of the war, McIntosh and Brennan said, that women began to incorporate martial themes: missiles, helicopters, tanks and fighter jets.
The women probably would have seen them not as modern military technology but as powerful beings with immense power to kill and destroy.
As with other spiritual beings, weaving their likeness into fabric may have been an effort to ward off harm.
It's not just about pretty things, he said. Textiles are powerful. The war ended, and Hmong families were placed in refugee camps in neighboring Thailand.
The Hmong women had a tradition of story cloths: large embroidered scenes of everyday life and the war that shattered it.
Pachia Lucy Vang, a Hmong American designer, said there are many studies on textile-making and its benefits to mental health. The expressions of expression helped them deal with what was in their mind. The longing and loss for the homeland. Tounekham Koulabdara, who fled southern Laos as a young woman and later settled in the U.S., said weaving was partly an act of Buddhist temperance: an effort to carry on despite the daily chaos of war.
A traditional red skirt, or sinh, created in the late 1960s by her mother, with the red meant to symbolise bloodshed and splitting of families, remains a treasured family heirloom.
Many weavers, such as my mother, wove what she saw or felt during that time, Koulabdara said. The weaver's ability to transfer her feelings, lived experience, and memories into each thread is limited. It's a way to stitch their stories for the next generation. In today's Laos, weaving is a big business. The demand for high-quality textiles has resulted in a surge in domestic demand for them, which has led to the creation of textile manufacturing centers throughout the nation.
Today, the chic sinhs, worn for work and weddings, have returned to classic themes of flowers, rivers and elephants.
It s one reflection of how the secret war is receding from memory: The war generation is approaching their 70 s and 80 s, while about half of Laos population is under 24.
For me the war is over, said textile merchant in Vientiane. We should take a more positive view of the world. But for some women, weaving remains a quiet, private way to process the past.
Although Laos is culturally frowned upon to speak too harshly about the war, McIntosh believes it has an invisible effect on the survivors and even their descendants.
It was for McIntosh, a Lao American who didn t understand until later in life why her mother, a refugee, couldn t bear to speak Lao but was always weaving.
In a way, the seriousness, the gravity, of the war is still expressed in the textile traditions of Laos, McIntosh said. This trauma has passed on, but it s hidden. It s not blatant, but it is there in Lao society.