Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Karen Hill Tribe Silver: a story of a people

As the prices of precious metals soar, and ricochet across analyst's graphs it is clear that the demand for gold has made silver an even more precious metal. Curiosity has served us well in that a few years back when we were exposed to different silver beads and silver work, we searched and continue to search for where an item was made, who made it and how was it created. This proved to be intriguing and allowed for the justification of a journey or a diverted route.

This was the case in particular, as through my business dealings for another job in my other life, business required that a trip to Thailand take place and to a region in the north called Chiang Mai. A heavenly place that a certain community called the Karen Hill Tribe, created with the most rudimentary tools, and had faced extreme poverty and economic strife called their home. Simply put, the artistic creations of the Karen Hill Tribe craftsmen are unlike any silver work on the planet.

It has been documented that there presence in Thailand was since the 12th Century and it is believed that the Karen originally came from Tibet, through China, Myanmar (Burma) and then to Thailand. They are subsistence farmers who live at peace with nature and the forests. The Karen settled in what is termed the 'middle level' in the mountains, namely between 800 and 1,800 meters.

It is the beads that they have been making for hundreds of years that sustained them and actually allowed these communities to avoid displacement to a certain extent and some form of economic stability in their own abodes.

They live in an area covering four countries in the famed Golden Triangle covering Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam. They do not possess the sophisticated tools, machinery and the latest innovative technology that we rely on so heavily. Instead, due to these limitations and challenges a very distinct voice, style and imagery have emerged.

On my last trip to Chiang Mai, I was able to purchase beautiful samples of Karen Hill Tribe Silver and we will increase the range and expand the collection. The pieces are sold by grams and are sterling silver.

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