Friday, 21 May 2010

Map of patterns - why do dictators hate patterns?

It's been a good week for my map of patterns...a generous mum at my son's school gave me one of her veils or 'niqabs' (destined for the Middle East part of my map or maybe just Thornton Heath), my friend Deborah came back from Serbia and brought me some crochet...a beautiful kanga cloth arrived in the post from Kenya and I spent a wonderful evening with old family friends Sipareth and Nepal Sam hearing their stories about cloth in Cambodia.

Sipareth and Nepal came from Cambodia in the late 1970's, fleeing with their young son from the regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. When the regime came to power in the 1975, they declared the return back to Year Zero - basically to a peasant society with no money, eduction, industry or western influence: colour and pattern were strictly forbidden.
Banished from Phnom Phnen to the countryside to work as a peasant, Sipareth described to me how she took her clothes into the fields to dye them black with the bitter berries of the 'macloouer' tree, stamping them underfoot in the mud and leaving them to bake in the sun. Once dry, she would repeat the process over and over again, until her clothes were as black as could be and there was no danger of standing out from the other peasant labourers or being picked out in a crowd.

In 1978, Sipareth and Nepal fled to a refugee camp in the Thai border, where their son Nemonique was born. When I went to see them last week in Croydon, they were preparing for a big family wedding in France, and Sipareth was putting together beautiful silks and woven costumes for all the family. She explained to me the difference between the different kinds of ikat patterns and silks and let me have some precious samples. I left that evening, re-assured that - in this case - colour and pattern had triumphed over evil, but only in the end and at a most terrible price.

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