Rosalind ventures off beaten track to visit North Vietnamese hill tribes

Rachel McNabb


Rachel McNabb

FOR most of us the annual summer holidays mean sun, sea and sand but for Ballymena woman Rosalind Lowry it is a chance to venture off the beaten track.

Every year Rosalind's passion for art and textiles takes her to some of the remotest locations in the world including Mongolia, Equador and Siberia.

This year was no different and in September Rosalind jetted off to spend two and a half weeks with the North Vietnamese hill tribes.

Rosalind was one of ten women from all over the world who joined the trip which was sponsored by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

The aim of the project was to highlight the importance of passing down skills from older to younger women.

Rosalind stayed at the homes of women from five different hill tribes where she had the opportunity to experience first hand their extraordinary way of life.

The villages are so remote that the group had to travel by bus nine and a half hours up into the mountains.

Rosalind, an Arts Development Officer for Mid and East Antrim, said: “The women were lovely

and made us very welcome. They cooked for us and taught us their crafts from dyeing cloth to hand stitching.

“As part of the project we got the opportunity to spend time with the women and learn from them.

“They make the most beautiful, colourful and intricate textiles and clothing and it is all done from scratch.

“They grow their own hemp, dye the cloth, weave it and embellish it, all skills that they pass down to the younger women in the tribes.

“It is so important that these skills and crafts are passed down through the generations so they don't die out.”

Rosalind added: “Some of the homes we stayed in were so remote there was no transport and we had to walk.

“Each night we would eat out of a large pot and anything that was left over would be fed to the pigs.

“We mostly ate fresh vegetables, rice and pancakes which was great for me as I am a vegetarian.

“With a lot of the tribes we visited we would have been the first white people they have ever come across so the villagers would all come down just to stare.

“They took great interest in us and would watch us as we learned some of the skills being passed down from the older woman.

“We spent a couple of days learning to dye fabric with natural materials such as the roots of vegetables and tree bark, all sorts of weird and wonderful things they use to dye their cloth.

“I would be keen to try a workshop at home. I discovered that there are all sorts of things you can dye cloth with including the stone of an avocado.”

Rosalind, who studied sculpture at art college in London, said her time with the North Vietnamese hill tribes was a “wonderful learning experience”.

She continued: “I would use textiles in my sculptures so this project appealed to me and I decided to apply.

“As well as highlighting the importance of old crafts the project was also about sustainable fashion and textiles.

“I believe we are becoming a throw away society and I am as guilty as the next person who would buy a new top and then a few weeks later get bored with it and buy another.

“The women we met make everything including trousers, tops jewellery and even baby clothes. Nothing goes to waste.”

Rosalind added: “It is sad to see the old crafts in this country dying out such as whitework embroidery and the linen industry which was particularly prominent in Ballymena. At one stage Ballymena had 8 or 9 mills.

“I am sure there are people out there who have old linen or embroidered pieces that could be brought out and a programme run to pass down these traditional skills.”

Rosalind concluded that it was a “privilege” to meet the women of the hill tribes.

“They were the friendliest people you could meet considering what the country has been through. They were so welcoming and it was a privilege to learn from them,” she said.

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