Monday, 7 November 2011

Reviving an ancient tradition

Cuttings #3, November 2011
WHEN orchidologist Dr Saw Lwin travelled to northern Myanmar to conduct an orchid survey in the wilderness of Kachin State, one of his most surprising discoveries was in the villages of Waingmaw district.

There, he found women of the Lawngwaw (Maru) ethnic group sewing patterns in traditional clothing using fibres from the yellow-flowered waso orchid (Dendrobium moschatum).

The outfits, woven on looms, with the orchid-fibre patterns sewn by hand using porcupine quills as needles, are worn on special occasions by the Lawngwaw, a subgroup of the Kachin ethnic group.

It has been a local tradition to decorate traditional clothes with the bright yellow patterns. The stems of most orchid species are brittle, breaking too easily for use in sewing. The costumes are set to shown at the 20th World Orchid Conference in Singapore from 13-20 November.

Dr Saw Lwin said that according to accounts compiled by U Dine Lwan of the Lawngwaw Literary Committee, the practice of using orchid fibres to embellish clothing can be traced back to 500 BCE. The expert is now trying to launch a project in the area to recruit more women to help in the revival of the tradition.
Also at the conference, the 2011 Native Orchid of Singapore Coins will be unveiled on November 13 at the opening ceremony.

The Singapore Mint said the coins will be the first to bear a semi-rimless design to give the flowers a 3D effect. It will feature two orchids common to Singapore – the Grammatophyllum speciosum or Tiger Orchid, and the Cymbidium finlaysonianum, an orchid species seen growing on trees along local roads.

In the US, two conservation groups are joining forces to ensure the perpetuation and appreciation of orchids in North America and throughout the world. The 90-year old American Orchid Society (AOS) in Palm Beach County is moving its HQ to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, the conservation and education-based botanic garden, Florida.

The AOS will bring to Fairchild Garden more than 15,000 varieties of orchids and it will also continue to publish its monthly magazine, Orchids. Fairchild Garden’s own annual international Orchid Festival is set to expand.

Founded in 1921, the AOS has more than 10,000 members and 600 affiliated orchid societies around the world. Founded in 1938, Fairchild has more than 45,000 members. Both seem to prove that orchids have not lost their allure since the craze of the 19th century.

Further north, giant orchid art sculptures are shortly to grace a Canadian city.Three six-metre tall bronze and stainless steel orchids will be installed near an underpass. The artwork, costing $100,000, is by Irish artist Alex Pentek, who has also exhibited Hobart in Tasmania.

Post-apocalyptic specimen
Finally, orchids make a rather different appearance, thanks to the work of guitarist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. Morello has teamed up with Dark Horse Comics to bring Orchid, a post-apocalyptic story featuring a powerful fortresses away from dangerous mutated creatures and the scum of the lower class citizens. Orchid is the eponymous teenage prostitute who learns that she is more than the role society has imposed upon her.

In keeping with his musical heritage, each issue is to be promoted with a new song by Morello and his band.