The Four Sisters

The Four Sisters: Phout, Maren, Souksakone, and Malaithong

Preamble: Our family first met the silk weavers of Houaphon Province, Laos in 2007 on our first trip gathering inventory for our newly-founded business, Above the Fray. We’ve now visited some 20 times, and Maren has become special, committed friends – in Lao, seo – with three incredible women who grew up together in the silk-weaving village of Xam Tai: Souksakone and Phout, who maintain separate businesses but are both long-recognized as the two premier silk dyers, weavers, designers, and business-people in the district, and Malaithong, who didn’t enjoy weaving and instead went to college, learned English, earned an M.A. in Rural Development in Japan, and for the last 4 years has been Houaphon Province’s Director of Tourism Development. Malaithong has been our trusted translator, guide, and all-around opener of doors (it seems she personally knows everyone in the district). In 2016, all three had the opportunity to visit America to participate in Santa Fe’s International Folk Art Market. Souksakone and Malaithong visited again in 2018.

This holiday season, because of travel restrictions, all four friends could only meet using Messenger and WhatsApp to share time and gather, select, pay for, pack, and air freight new silks for our 2021 Holiday Sale. Not only does this give Above the Fray some new incredible textiles to share, but it helps the bottom line for many weavers, silk raisers, and natural-dyers in Xam Tai during this difficult pandemic year.

Over the years, the relationship between the four women has grown trusting and personal, and they share a special affection, respect, and sense of humor. The four women, indeed, are seo. And even though Maren knows only a little Lao, and Souksakone and Phout speak no English, these four strong, confident women together light a spark that could power a mid-sized village.

Malaithong recently offered a most reasonable explanation for this bond:

The Four Seo.

The Four Sisters (told by Malaithong)

“Long ago, before we were born, there were four sisters who lived in the sky, and they loved each other very much. They laughed and sang together, and their hearts were full. 

“Then there was a great storm…” – and here Malaithong lifts her right hand over her head, lets out a long-winded “Whoo-o-o-osh”, and swirls her arm downward, tracing the outline of a tornado.

“The wind was so ferocious that the sisters could not all hold onto each other, and they were flung wide to different places. Three of the sisters clung together, and landed in Laos, here in Xam Tai, where they were born and grew up as seo – whole-hearted friends. But the fourth sister? Hah! She was blown a long distance and landed across the world, and she was born in America. 

Souksakone, Maren, Phout, and Malaithong in Santa Fe (for the International Folk Art Market) in 2016.

“None of the sisters knew of their loss, of course, because it all happened before they were born. 

“Then, behold! Many years later – a miracle! A stranger woman, a falang (westerner) with her husband and two young sons, walks into their village interested in silk and friendships, and – well, who can explain it? –  suddenly the four sisters had found each other! They knew they were seo.

“Now their hearts are full, and the four sisters can laugh and sing together again.”

Their first American barbecue at our home in Eugene, when Maren’s “three Lao sisters” were able to visit in 2016.
Gotta show-off some textiles, too!

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