A Clothes Conscious Culture
Whether it is the tartans and kilts of Scotland or the flowing robes and checkered keffiyeh headdress of Arab peoples, clothes and particular fashion styles make a statement about who we are and where we are from. Traditionally, clothes are part of an individual identity and can signify nationality, the region from where the wearer comes and, in many cases, his family name.
In Northern Thailand, the Old Kingdom of Lanna Thai, traditional folk dress of the culture can still be seen in everyday use. On Fridays, staff in many government agencies (the Post Office or Municipal Office is an example) wear a "Northern Thai Style" shirt (properly called "Moh Hom") which their ancestors of centuries ago created as daily work dress. Likewise, many pedal samlor or tuk-tuk (dtook-dtook) drivers regularly wear the Moh Hom while women wear the female equivalent coupled with a slim; ankle length skirt called a Pha Zin. Of course, at special times of the year when a parade is a feature of the festival, just about every local will be seen in his or her very best ceremonial Moh Hom and Pha Zin.
The traditional garb of Lanna Thai people came with them, centuries ago, when the migratory process brought them from their ancient roots in Southern China. These were the Tai Lue of Sipsong Panna (who settled the Mekhong River valley around Chiangsean and the "Golden Triangle" area) and the Tai Yai of Nanzhao who travelled further west into Upper Burma (now known as the Shan States).
Costumes worn by these peoples were both practical and simple of design but could be readily adapted and adorned for ceremonial and festive occasions. Both men and women wore the collarless Moh Hom shirt; for men it was worn loose with three-quarter length sleeves (giving freedom of movement when working in the wet rice paddies) while, for women, the Moh Hom is waisted with full length sleeves. Men also wore calf-length pants (again, for working the wet paddies) called Sador with a checkered sash knotted around the waist (it could also be used as a headdress/turban to ward off the hot sun).
Moh Hom shirts (and Sador pants) were traditionally made from spun cotton (naturally white/off white in color) which was dyed indigo blue with the juices of a local tree the "Hom Tree", Acanthaceae. Several parts (leaves, branch and trunk) of Hom Tree are tied with rope and soaked in water for 4-5 days reaching decay condition. Pounding or grinding in mortar should be helpful. After filtering, the indigo liquid is obtained. Before dying, that liquid should be added with lime and soda ash. Dying was done in huge, earthenware pots called "Moh" and thus the term "Moh Hom" came to describe these garments. Moh Hom shirts for men are fastened with cotton cleats or wooden pegs and the women's version are fastened by a line of bright buttons down the front.
It's obvious Moh Hom dress was worn by one of many minorities Lao Puan, who migrated to the provincial city of Phrae and were the workers of Forestry Organization, during World War II. They started wearing Moh Hom which became more popular among forestry workers and later, the style was adopted by the entire region. It was an official record that in 1953, Ajarn Kraisee Nimanhemin, late intellectual of the north, brought this Moh Hom dress to Chiangmai for more publicity. On several occasions of the dinner shows, Khantoke, for welcoming or farewell parties Regional Chief Judges, Governors, Foreign General consuls, etc.
As a visitor to Chiangmai or Chiangrai, or any other Northern Thai city, you will have ample opportunity to see "Moh Hom" being worn both daily and ceremonially. As is the case with national or regional dress of other countries, it is nice to remember that this dress code of modern Northern Thailand dates from the historic past of the old Lanna Thai Kingdom. By the way, hand-woven cotton Moh Hom shirt especially in the beautiful, ceremonial style and colors make a memorable gift for someone back home.
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