One man’s passion for handicrafts inspires a new generation of artisans

Mr Tarreboun Rattanavong loves collecting and preserving handmade bamboo and rattan items that are commnly used for household purposes.
His passion has led him to spend many years collecting local and traditional handicrafts from rural areas.
Mr Tarreboun sees the importance of preserving these handicrafts from Laos’ various ethnic communities from all parts of the country as they represent the country’s heritage which has been passed down from generation to generation, and has been¬† actively searching for original items representing each ethnic group.
Alongside his preservation of these original items he also encourages people in Phonhong district, Vientiane province, where he lives, to make new and more attractive designs.
He works with residents of Nabone, Vangmon, Nongkhone, and Phousan villages, who are skilled craftspersons.
He encourages them to come up with new and more modern designs that are in keeping with current market trends. This will enable people to sell their products and have more income.
It’s also a good way to preserve longstanding traditions.
Mr Tarreboun says he’s willing to teach those who are interested in learning the skills needed to make these items.
“I have studied the hand-made items produced by different ethnic groups. Unfortunately, many of them have disappeared and are rarely seen today. This isn’t a good situation for our handicraft traditions.¬† Now there are fewer people working in handicraft production and some items aren’t made or used any more because of the changes in the way things are made.
Many have been replaced by plastic products and some simply aren’t needed these days. This is a big concern for our handicraft traditions and I’m worried about it,” Mr Tarreboun said.

Mr Tarreboun at his shop in Nabone village which displays a large collection of items made of bamboo and rattan.

“As we know, Laos has many ethnic groups with traditions that go back hundreds of years and each group has their own unique products. I want to preserve these and promote them so I try to encourage villagers to continue making them. I support them by buying the items from them for sale. I also provide them with a market to sell to so they can earn a regular income.”
Last year Mr Tarreboun set up a handicraft garden to display these crafts. The garden is situated in Nabone village, Phonhong district, and is over one hectare in size.
Beside the garden there is a traditional style house which also has a wide range of handicrafts on display. These have been collected from around the country and some are more than 100 years old.
There is a shop displaying various hand-made products, mostly made from bamboo and rattan and intended for household use. The prices here are lower than those in other shops.
Mr Terreboun also grows rice, bamboo and other crops using organic methods.
The garden is a place where people can come to learn how to make some of these treasured items, with Mr Tarreboun and his staff offering courses that cost 50,000 per person per day including lunch.
Recently, a group of students from the National University of Laos went there to learn these traditional skills.
Mr Tarreboun considers the garden to be something of a museum where people can learn about handicraft production and the history of what were once common household utensils. They can also learn about organic farming.
To add to the garden’s appeal he has built some giant replicas of animals and Lao cultural icons such as an elephant, a khaen, makbeng, and a sticky rice basket.
In the future he plans to enlarge the garden and build statues of fish, dinosaurs and other quirky adornments.
Since it opened last year, the garden has already drawn more than 1,000 visitors including some foreigners.
The garden is open daily and entrance is free.
Mr Tarreboun says he wants people to visit the garden, especially the handicraft exhibit, and to learn about traditional handicraft products representing the different ethnic groups in Laos.
Mr Tarreboun was born in 1967, in Vangmon village, Phonghong district, Vientiane province.
He graduated with a Diploma in Business Administration from Comecenter College in Vientiane.
He said he wanted to use his knowledge of business administration to manage, improve, and develop local products so they have more market appeal and are more innovative, which will benefit the people who make them.
When he graduated, he worked with several organisations and projects related to handicrafts and became a tutor, teaching people in many districts across the country.
Besides carrying out his duties with the organisations he worked for, he was also much involved with handicrafts at home and tried to encourage people around him to be likewise inspired.
He is very happy and proud of his achievements.
He loves inventing new designs and has been making beautiful items with love and care for more than 20 years.
He has received many commendations from the government and local authorities and in 2007 one of his product designs won a prize in a contest at the Lao Handicraft Festival.
He currently lives in Xangkhou village, Xaythany district, Vientiane. He is a member of the Board of the Lao Handicraft Association under the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
He’s also the owner and director of Xaoban Bamboo Handicraft situated on That Khao Road in Phaxay village, Sisattanak district, which sells all kinds of bamboo and rattan products at reasonable prices.
He invites everyone to visit the shop and buy whatever takes their fancy, and is sure that purchases will be treasured for many years to come.

By Visith Teppalath
(Latest Update May 25, 2018)

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