"Too many arts and stories have disappeared, but saa paper is our village's heritage. I'd feel regret if there was nobody to continue it."
"Too many arts and stories have disappeared, but saa paper is our village's heritage. I'd feel regret if there was nobody to continue it. So, I still do it today.
"Too many crafts have disappeared, perhaps because we can not find people to continue them, or because the young generation doesn't know their value. But the saa paper tradition in my village is alive and well.
"My name is Fongkham Lahpinta, born in a small rural village renowned for crafting saa paper for more than 100 years. In the past, I can remember, it was made in every home. When I was young, before going to school, I had to beat the mulberry bark fiber used to make it. And so I was always late to school. But if I didn't do it, I'd have had no money to buy food at lunch time. After lunch, I'd walk home to dry the paper pulp – about 50 pages each day – and return to school. So I only finished grade 4 of primary school.
"When I was a child, the villagers used saa paper for umbrellas and books. I remember that I used saa paper with a stick of charcoal instead of white paper books and pencils like my friends.
"When I left school to make paper with my family, I was just ten years old. It's hard work for children, but I love it and have tried to design on my own. By 1973, nobody in my village made saa paper except my family. People said that in the modern world everybody uses cloth umbrellas or plastic, and children's books aren't too expensive.
"Before 1980, many villages were very poor. When people went to the hospital in the city, they would ask me for some saa paper to place under their bodies to absorb blood and the doctor was very interested in this paper. Then the hospital ordered my saa paper to use in many ways, for example to support the body, absorb blood or plasma, to make plaster casts, etc. I got many orders for paper and could pay people to help me.
"Today I have lots of work designing new products, organizing my helpers and speaking with the people who visit our workshop. Fortunately, I have my daughter and husband to help and encourage me. Now, many villagers have work here in the area and don't have to look for jobs in the city. I'm proudest to be able to give something back to my village.
"I worry about the young generation that isn't interested in continuing this heritage of our village. But I know how to persuade them to continue our craft. Now, it's good to know about Novica so that we can provide our goods to the whole world and create more jobs for the village."
Saa, or mulberry bark paper has been made by hand in Thailand for more than 700 years and was often used for Buddhist scripts, temple decorations, umbrellas, fans, and kites. The smallest branches produce the highest quality bark. Because the mulberry is a fast-growing species, the branches, once cut, are quickly replenished and can be cut again the following year, while the tree itself lives its natural course.
The bark is saturated in clear water and boiled in cauldrons over a naked flame with several kinds of ashes, thus softening the fibers. Lahpinta adds dyes, and the fibers are beaten to a pulp with mallets until tender. Once hand-sifted with a screen, the fibers are spread out and allowed to dry in the sun for about 20 minutes, after which the paper can easily be peeled off the screen.