Visitors to Mong villages in Son La province see bamboo papooses everywhere. People wear papooses when they work in the terraced fields or go to the market. Mong men sit in front of their stilt houses weaving papooses.
|Making bamboo papooses is Mong men's work.
Papooses have been closely associated with the life of the Mong people for generations. Embroidery, needlework, and paper-making are female work, while weaving papooses is done by the men.
70-year-old Vừ Sua Ly, chief of Pha Khuong village, says: “The Mong are used to living in the highest, most dangerous mountains. We wear papooses on our backs to carry corn, rice, and the things we collect from the forest up and down the rugged, rocky slopes.”
Ly began making papooses when he was 20. He said great care is needed in each step in the making of a durable papoose. “We choose mature bamboo and rattan, so the papoose will not ro, said Ly.
They peel the bark and split the bamboo and rattan into strips 1 centimeter wide. "First, we make a square foundation. Then we weave bamboo strips until it reaches the height we want. The mouth of a papoose can be anywhere from 20 to 50 centimeters in diameter. At the papoose’s mouth we make a bamboo rim and fold the bamboo strips over it to weave an outer layer for a double-layer papoose,” said Ly.
|Bamboo papooses are indispensable items in Mong people's daily life.
A papoose has two straps. The Mong often go into the forest to get a kind of creeper that makes durable, soft, pain-free shoulder straps.
Mong men usually make papooses in the rainy season, from June to September. When the humidity is high, the bamboo strips are more flexible and much easier to split and bend. This is the season when Mong people are free from farm work. They stay at home making papooses and hoping they will need lots of such containers for their bumper harvest.
Everyone in a Mong family has a personal papoose, small or big to fit their stature. When they go to their terraced fields, they carry food, water, and farm tools in their papoose. When they return home, they bring vegetables from the field or things collected in the forest, such as bamboo shoots. When they go to a fair, they carry farm products to sell and bring back salt, meat, or needle work. At home, they have many papooses in which to store foodstuffs.
Va Thi Va of Pha Khuong hamlet, says: “When I was little, my parents gave me a papoose to wear when I followed them to the terraced fields. Wearing a papoose on my back leaves my hands free to do other work. Papooses are useful items in our lives.”
Life is slowly changing but the papoose has remained indispensable for generations of Mong and other people who live in the high mountains.