For your information a more concise version of this article also appears in Textiles Asia January 2017, Volume 8, Issue 3
Journey to lesser known museums of Southeast Asia - visiting the Folklore Museum and a private museum in Songkhla.
The Southern states of Thailand, Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani and Songkla were always included in my journey to learn more about textiles of the Malay world. However, I have been warned several times to avoid these areas because of a continuing conflict between Buddhists and Muslims in the region. It was not until I found a friend in Terengganu with a home and family in Yala, who kindly offered to chaperon me that I decided to go.
From Terengganu, in northeast Malaysia, we hired a driver who drove us to the Malaysian/Thai border in Kelantan. From there we walked across a small bridge over the narrow Golok River separating the two states of two countries. Another, but simpler and perhaps safer way is to board a plane from Bangkok to Hat Yai and hire a car, but best go with someone you knows the area well.
After a night in Yala, we hired a driver to take us to the Folklore Museum in Songkhla. Not only did we have to drive across two states, Yala and Patanni but also had to ride a ferry and cross the 1,140m long Tinsulanond Bridge to get to the island of Ko Yo where the museum is located.
Photo 1: Location map of Songkhla Folklore Museum
Photo 2: View of Tinsulanond Bridge from museum
The museum was opened by the Thai Queen’s daughter, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, on September 22, 1991 on 8.8 acres of land on a hill overlooking the beautiful Songkhla Lake. This is Thailand's largest inland lake or rather a stilted lagoon.
Photo 3: Ariel view of museum
When entering the museum I was surprised by its enormous size which I did not expect for a provincial museum. As its brochure claims, there are over 30 large rooms, containing over 5,000 artifacts founded around the region and depicting a lifestyle and culture of the southern states of Thailand which is primarily Malay and Muslim. The museum has rooms displaying ancient glass beads, gold and silver ware, keris, pottery and ceramics, wood carving and coconut graters, vintage glass, shadow puppets, and many other crafts including textiles. I loved that a lot of artifacts, such as pottery, were on the open display and others were on a balcony with a fantastic lake view.
Photo 4 (Right): Gold and silver belt buckles
Photo 5 (Up): Display of coconut graters; Photo 6 (Down): Display of local pottery
Even in the gallery displays, many cabinets were interspersed with ceiling to floor windows providing panoramic views of the surrounding lake with aqua culture floating farms belonging to the institute.
It took us a little time to find the textile galleries where textiles were divided into different areas from which they were found. In the first section was a cabinet labeled International Cloths. It contained textiles found in the region but from foreign countries. Among textiles that caught my eye was a sarong with red horizontal borders flanking a central field of alternating plain and chevron filled stripes created by weft ikat. Such textiles called padang rusak in Aceh were produced in Aceh by Karo or Toba Bataks for the Achenese. Somehow in the past they became very popular in the south of Thailand and north of Malaysia. Perhaps the Achenese brought them along when they crossed the straits to try take control of this area. Aceh is situated just west of the former Pattani sultanate which comprised all the southern Thai and northern Malay states. Perhaps, that was also why I saw similar pieces, all labelled as Kain Aceh, in several museums in north Malaysia.
Photo 7 (Up): Display of locally found tie-dye and ikat textiles
Photo 8 (Down): Imported textiles, padang rusak from Aceh
The other cloth I noticed in the international cabinet was a sarong songket with continuous supplementary weft patterns of golden silk floss and a purple ground. Such textiles, which do not seem that old, probably dating around the 1950s, I found in Aceh, Sambas, Pontianak and also Palembang. Except for a few, most of them are dyed with ultra shocking chemical colors, but are nevertheless very interesting in their patterns, one of them on display even had a repeat pattern of keris. Although only a few decades old till today no one has been able to pin point their exact location of production.
Photo 9 (Up): Imported silk brocade textile with floral design
The rest of the textiles were mixed general Thai and Thai textiles unique to the Muslim states of south Thailand. These included tie-dye known as pelangi. For these pelangi sarongs Chinese silks were used but for the Muslim ladys’ pelangi head shawls a silk crepe was preferred. Some of these tie-dyes showed very clear and intricate patterns attesting to the amazing dexterity and achievement of this technique by the Malays of this region.
Photo 10 (Up): Display of locally found tie-dye and ikat textiles
Photo 11 (Down): Group of typical southern Thai pelangis
The next group was checked shawls, locally known as punca potong. Here I saw two categories: one with just checks but included on each end a thin stripe of ikat known as ikat pecan and the other with checks but had broad bands of weft ikat on each end plus ikat patterns interspersed in between the checks.
Photo 12 (Up): Punca potong shawl with checks and thin stripe of ikat pattern
Photo 13 (Down): Punca potong shawl with checks and alternating ikat patterns
Then, there were chaun tani or limar cloths which were mostly shawls or hip wrappers used by both men and women. These were with ikat patterns all the way but with end panels of different colors.
Photo 14: Chaun tani or limar cloths
I was indeed very happy to see one whole section on batik and its manufacture. Before entering this gallery, I did not know that batik was produced in southern Thailand. I learnt that in the early 20th century, the process involved wood stamps with batik wax resist patterns carved onto them. It was later, that copper stamps like those of Java were used. It seems that hand drawn batik was much less in use in these regions, explaining why the batik here resembled the cruder works of Kelantan and Terengganu of northeast Malaysia rather than the finer Javanese batiks.
Photo 15 (Below): Two southern Thai batiks and wooden and copper chops
The songkets or cloths with gold and silver supplementary weft patterns were neither many or impressive, and were generally the later vintage songkets rather than the earlier court songkets that you can find in museums in northeast Malaysia.
Photo 16 (Below): Imported silk brocade textile with keris design
Other cloths include traditional Buddhist cloths offered and used by monks, and those used during songkran water festival. These cloths include beautiful ikats and brocades, some with woven inscriptions in them. They all look intriguing as I know little about this area of textiles. I am therefore not sure if they are unique to the region or can also be found in other parts of Thailand.
Photo 17 (Below): Cloths used in traditional Thai Buddhist ceremonies
The museum is interesting as it shows what was found in the region, but there were not many examples of each type of textiles, and there seems to be no attempt to find better examples to show from each region or category a more comprehensive range in terms of quality, technique and variety of patterns.
After the museum, we went to indulge in one of the area’s popular seafood restaurants. After a delicious meal we did not expect to be greeted by a pleasant surprise! Through Facebook I managed to contact Panya Phoonsin a very kind and soft spoken man, who came to pick us up and shared with us his unexpected collection of fabulous textiles all collected from only Songkhla within the last year. Housed in an old building, just like the long Peranakan houses with air wells, the collection was displayed in two rooms on the ground floor.
Photo 18 (Below) : With Khun Panya Phoonsin at his private museum
Mr. Phoonsin had all the usual category of pieces we saw at the museum earlier except he had a much wider and more comprehensive range. His collection included sarong with checks and vintage songket (brocade) sarongs, kain limars (Ikat) and pelangis (tie-dye), there were two extraordinary lady's shawls produced with use of an open work tapestry technique similar to the tritanadi women’s breast cloths of Bali. This was totally new to me.
Photo 19 (Below) : Locally found songkets in Khun Phoonsin’s collection
Photo 20 (Below) : Locally found pelangis in Khun Phoonsin’s collection
Photo 21 (Below) : Locally found check and stripe sarongs in Khun Phoonsin’s collection
Photo 22 (Below) : Locally found kain limars in Khun Phoonsin’s collection
Photo 23 (Below): Locally found batiks in Khun Phoonsin’s collection
Photo 24 (Below): Locally found open weave tapestry shawl in Khun Phoonsin’s collection
Additionally, the gallery had many complete outfits dressed on mannequins displaying how people in southern Thailand dressed. This form of dressing gave an impression of a laid back society that knew how to enjoy life. Coming out of Khun Punya's gallery, I certainly felt this relaxed mood as the local bar just a few doors down the street was entertaining customers with wonderful live saxophone jazz music that could be heard by all the neighbors.
These two museums are highly recommended for anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of textiles of this region.
Photo 25: Khun Phoonsin showing off his textiles with pride
Songkla Folklore Museum - Khatichon Wittaya Museum
Institute of Southern Thai Studies, Thaksin University, Moo 1 Ko Yo, Muang Songkhla
Tel. +6674231055 +6674331985 +6674591611
100 THB for foreigners
50 THB for locals
Khun Panya Phoonsin
Address: 238 Nakorn Nai Road, T. Boyang, A Muang Songkkhla,
Open only from 0930 to 1630. on Saturdays and Sundays