We have been working with Phet and his wife, Bouatong, since we started Ma Te Sai in 2010. Phet casts bangles using a traditional method pouring molten aluminium into moulds made of packed sand. Bouatong will finish the pieces with sandpaper to make sure edges are smooth. Originally in their village, Ban Naphia, Xiengkhouang Province, villagers made spoons by this method from war scraps, bomb struts and plane parts, left from the Indochina War.
The war story in Laos is relatively unknown. Not until a few years ago were the documents made public that the US government was in Laos before and during the Vietnam War. Bomb sorties were sent out from Thailand over Laos to combat the communist invasion from the Pathet Lao in Northern Laos, and the North Vietnamese along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. These sorties would have to unload bombs they didn’t drop in order to land. And that happened in Laos.
Xiengkhouang is the most heavily bombed province in Laos, in the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in the world. Unexploded ordnance (or UXO) are explosive weapons, bombs, bullets, shells, landmines, etc that did not explode when they were deployed and still pose a risk of detonation. 'Bombies' are the most common form of UXO remaining— - approximately 80 million unexploded bombies remained in Laos after the Vietnam War (Mines Advisory Group info). They cause more accidents than any other type of UXO in Laos.
Now using recycled aluminium, these families have created a livelihood out of something that once devastated their homeland, creating a sustainable range of jewellery and souvenirs. We also have worked closely with Phet and Bouatong over the years to co-create earrings, buttons and beads to give our pieces a unique edge.
We are on a mission to support local Laos artisans by sharing their products with you. You can shop our range of recycled metal products here.