Asian antiques from Laos are amongst the most interesting artifacts to be found in SE Asia. With its diverse ethnicity, Laos has a rich tradition of fashioning objects of beauty, many with utilitarian value. The people of Laos enjoy a simple, slow paced lifestyle, and are known for their friendly nature. We always enjoy our trips there and have made some good friends over time, especially ‘Mrs Vong’, an antique dealer who is one of the sweetest and quirkiest people we’ve met in our travels. Here I will feature a few of the antiques that we returned with from our most recent trip there as well as a few silk textiles that, while not antique, embody an art form that draws on techniques and symbolism that are over a thousand years old.
This antique sword is commonly referred to as a dha, or daab and is one of the more ornate forms of this style of sword seen. The dha is common to Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Burma and is thought to date back to as far as the 16th century. It has served for centuries as a key weapon in disputes between neighboring SE Asian countries and is to light handle, and very effective. We were told that this particular dha was not used as a military weapon but would most likely have been owned by a wealthy Laotian for personal use, indicated by the detailed bronze work found on the handle and scabbard. More commonly, the two bamboo pieces that form the scabbard were bound using rattan and sometimes resin. Read more about this dha
Elephant shaped opium weights are common to both Laos and Siam and are thought to have been in use from around the late 16th century. The elephant weights featured here are most likely from the 1800s and were popular amongst the Hmong minority hill tribe people to weigh opium. In contrast, animal weights from Burma which were in common use since the 14th century were used to weight a variety of materials including silver, gold, medicines and spices. We have seen genuine elephant weights in three sizes as featured here. Another les common variation is a mother elephant with baby, also available in the gallery. Read more about elephant opium weights
We’ve been looking for genuine antique opium pipes for some time now and were fortunate to find two excellent examples made by the Hmong on our last trip to Laos. The Hmong were the first hill tribe to successfully cultivate opium poppies in the region, most notably in the area known as the Golden Triangle that encompasses Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Burma. Both pipes are from the late 19th century and each is unique – one with a deer horn mouthpiece and the other with a decorated bronze smoking bowl and bone mouthpiece. The other pipe featured is a very handsome tobacco pipe that we couldn’t resist and is decorated with ornate silver bindings, a ceramic bowl and bone mouthpiece. View our Antique Pipe Collection
The Hmong hill tribe people are famous for their love of silver jewelry and in the past fashioned beautiful, often flamboyant adornments by melting down French silver coins. Hmong silversmiths are recognized for their considerable skills and creative designs. Hmong women often wear several large pieces of jewelry including silver torques, bracelets, pendants and hairpins. Featured here are an antique silver torque, soul lock pendant, and hairpin from the Hmong of Laos. View our Antique Tribal Silver Jewelry Collection
With a population of just 6.5 million people, Laos is a small country with few exports. One of the most beautiful artistic traditions of Laos is their silk weaving, a tradition that has been handed down from mother to daughter for countless generations. It’s difficult to appreciate from photos alone the beauty of these woven works of art as it is the incredible skill, time and concentration that goes into weaving them. A complicated piece such as the first wall hanging featured here took over a month to complete. Woven into the textiles are deeply symbolic ancient motifs that are an integral part of Laotian culture. View our Silk Collection
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