Creativity through Nature: Dara’ang’s Natural Dyes from Local Flora in Pang Daeng Nai Village in Thailand

Naturally dyed products sold at a cultural event © Dara-ang’s Handicrafts Facebook Page

Living harmoniously with nature has been the practice of indigenous peoples worldwide. One such action is through the use of local flora for dyeing clothes. In the Chiang Dao District of Chiang Mai, Thailand, a village called Pang Daeng Nai is known for its continuous transmission of knowledge on natural dyes, whether through intergenerational dialogue or tourism, and environmental protection. Even though the history of natural-dye practice is uncertain due to migration from Myanmar to Thailand around four decades ago, Dara’ang people in the village have been able to successfully set up their own community enterprise in 2015 with support from different stakeholders. At present, they have the capacity to develop their natural-dyed products for sale, build community unity, empower women and youths, and create understandings about their indigenous group and living heritage.

Naturally dyed colors are made from local plants around the village, which give different shades for making creative products. The bark of the Burma padauk gives red; the bark of the Broken Bones Tree provides green; Mucuna, brown; and banana stems, gray, to name a few. An active youth in Dara’ang living heritage safeguarding, Ms. Lukkana Hieng, reflects that “Instead of using chemicals, we can add value to our naturally dyed products through storytelling of which tree the color comes from.” Moreover, the made profit goes to the community loan program, youth-led activities and community event support, and firebreak construction.

The process in making the naturally dyed products is not simple, bringing efforts from Dara’ang women and youths in the community. It starts from collecting local plant parts and chopping them into small pieces. After that, they are boiled for an hour or until the colors come out. Boiled plants are then separated from the colored water, and the water continues to boil for the next forty minutes. Then, the community-weaved cotton is cleaned and soaked in this colored water while the heat is still on. Later, the cotton is mixed with other non-chemical substances, e.g. alum, limewater, and lye, to fix the natural colors. When dry, this naturally dyed cotton is turned into products.

Natural-dyeing process at Pang Daeng Nai Village © Dara-ang’s Handicrafts Facebook Page
The practice of natural dyeing is for not only creating aesthetic products but also generating a way to showcase Dara’ang culture. Traditional patterns, such as rainbows, mountains, rat’s feet, and eagle’s eyes, are sewn onto the products, which is a way to continue a century-long practice. Ms. Hieng states that “Through this initiative, people know more about our group and that we have craft skills and cultural identity.” Furthermore, Dara’ang women have advanced their products into many forms, e.g. coats, hats, tote bags, and key rings, and sell them online and at cultural events. This helps empower female villagers through entrepreneurship and creativity, which challenges former understanding of their action being associated within the household sphere.

Dara’ang traditional patterns sewn onto a scarf © Dara-ang’s Handicrafts Facebook Page
It is obvious that traditional craftmanship can lead to environmental sustainability, community development and empowerment, and cultural identity. Dara’ang people, though migrated from another area, have brought with them their cultural heritage of natural dyeing. This cultural practice has been well-adapted in the context of Thailand and led them to having quality and a sustainable livelihood.

More information (Dara-ang’s Handicrafts Facebook Page)