Monday, July 23, 2012

The Story of Silk

July 23, 2012

So my new partners, the Madagascar Cooperative Foundation, that are going to help export my silk products traveled with me to visit my weavers where they live.  The actual silk weaving cooperative is rather large, with different people in different towns who raise the silk worms, turn the cocoons into thread, dye the thread, and weave the products.  We went to go visit the people who actually do the weaving to film them for the website.  So we trekked the 7 km through the mountains on a dirt path.  Beautiful views, but took forever.  When we arrived, it was quickly worth it.  The people of the very small town of Morarano had never had a “vazaha,” or white person visit them before.  Needless to say, they were both very excited and very curious.  They made us lunch, and pretty much everyone stood around us and watched us eat haha.  We then had them bring their looms outside of their homes so we could film them weaving, because the houses are too dark for the camera.  All the people from the town stood around and watched the filming, so that will be amusing to see in the video.  Not quite what we were trying to capture—the typical day in the life of a weaver, but I think it will still be good.

Earlier in the week, MCF, the key people in my cooperative, and myself had met for MCF to ask a few questions and put in a request for a 9 scarf sample to send to the states.  In the process, we ended up learning a lot about the history of silk in Madagascar, and the history of the main family of weavers.  Here is the story, as told by Radany, a 46-year-old weaver and youth trainer.

Hundreds of years ago, there was a terrible disease that came to Madagascar. The dead bodies infected the living, and the disease spread all over the island.  The Malagasy began to ponder a solution.  They thought about what animal was easiest to kill, what animal always died when there was a sickness or a change in weather.  Their conclusion was the fragile silk worm, which they said drew in all of the sickness from the air.  The Malagasy decided they would wrap their dead in cloth made from these worms, and the disease stopped when they did so.  A few years ago, an American professor did a study about this phenomenon, and concluded that the Plague ending in Madagascar coincided with when they started wrapping their dead in silk cloth.  Every 5 or 7 years, depending on the cultural norm of the region, the Malagasy perform a custom called “Famadiana,” or “Turning of the Bones.”  The families of the deceased exhume the bodies from their tombs and perform many cultural customs, among which are drinking A LOT, and more importantly, wrapping another layer of endemic silk around the exhumed body.  This practice is still in place all over the island today.

Because of this phenomenon, it is believed that wearing a silk scarf or other clothing item will protect you from illness or curses.  It is said that if you are wearing silk and someone curses you, the curse will double back to them (I am rubber and you are glue…).  In addition, Radany says he wears silk everyday, and if say an illness like a cough comes through his town, he says he will only get sick one in five times.  He also cautioned that it only works on airborne illnesses, it can’t help with anything ingested (darn).  Although I haven’t had a cough in awhile…hmmmmm.

Another fun story: Radany picked up a piece of aged wood that they use when weaving.  He said his family has been using that same piece of wood since 1918.  He is the 5th generation of weavers in his family, and started when he was 7.  He is currently teaching his 7 year old how to weave, along with a few other youth apprentices, derived from a partnership with PROSPERER (who I work for).

So, now you know all about silk in Madagascar.  And when the website is up and running, you can go purchase silk scarves from The Village Store and protect yourself haha.

19 days until I am back home! And I will likely be wearing a scarf haha, gotta protect from all the diseases on a plane!