Life on lake Inle in the Shan state of Myanmar is different. As you can imagine, living in houses suspended above the water can change the way you live. One of the most interesting developments is that silk is extracted from lotus. The lady whose photo you see alongside showed us how. You break the stem and slowly pull apart the broken edges. You see strings of sap joining the ends. These are rolled together to produce the fiber. You can see a tray at her feet which contains these fibers. It is a long and laborious process. She knew little English, so I could not ask her the questions which came to my mind. How long does she work every day? How much fiber does she get each day? In the same workshop I saw an old man at a spinning wheel, spinning the fiber into yarn. There was an amazing look of concentration on his face which you can see in the photo. Another few steps down the corridor the yarn was being woven into cloth. The dyeing of the yarn seemed to take place in an upper floor. The colours were lovely muted browns and greens, a touch of earthy red, and the colour of raw yarn.
As our boat made its way through the village to the workshop, we’d passed a lotus farm. I went back there to look at it. A walkway surrounded a fair acreage given over to growing lotus. As I looked at it I wondered about the economics of this process. In other places I’ve seen bees fertilize the flowers. Where would bees hive here? is the ferilization done by hand? Is there enough money in the trade to keep villages occupied in growing lotus, extracting fibre, spinning yarn, dyeing and weaving it?
Some of the answers came indirectly. I learnt that the fabric woven from lotus silk was once reserved for the use of kings. Now you can buy it in a shop adjoining the workshop. The Family looked at a little stole. They were beautiful, but a single stole cost about USD 100. The turnover is small, but the costs are large. There is clearly enough income from it to support families at the same level of income as their neighbours who work at other things. But this way of life could disappear soon as surrounding areas grow more prosperous.