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The heir to a golden silk tradition

The heir to a golden silk tradition

Vath Hay, 30, sorts through a basket of silk worm cocoons on a silk farm in Banteay Meanchey province.

Before Dam Chinda married her silkworm-raising husband last year, she had sat next to her mother, who earned extra income from raising silkworms for almost whole life. And she’s determined to follow in her mother’s footsteps for her future income.

“I want to raise silkworms forever. When we do raise them, we have money,” Dam Chinda says, adding: “And I can’t drop it, because I already have mulberry trees and my mother-in-law also gave us some mulberry trees.”

Last month, Chinda happily picked caterpillars’ nests from the well-prepared trees next to her home while her husband, Vath Hay, did the same under their wooden house, where the silkworms’ nests are kept.

Dam Chinda’s mother, Tep Ham, taught her at a young age how to feed mulberry leaves to the silkworms. She doesn’t regret doing it, as many villagers have dropped this traditional practice because of the difficulties in raising silkworms to produce golden silk.

Tep Ham explains that the residents of Phnom Srok district have a long history of producing natural golden silks by raising silkworms. Weaving golden silk is a symbol of the district, celebrated by a big statue on National Road 6 from Siem Reap.

Dam Chinda happily helped her mother with silkworms rather than migrating to  Thailand to work, as many other villagers’ daughters have done.

She says it takes six weeks to raise silkworms to produce about 30 kilograms of silkworm nests, earning about 150 USD. One kilogram of nest costs 21,000 riel (US$5.25).  Buyers from Siem Reap buy all her nests, and she says she never worries about the market.

“There’s always a market for them, and the buyer always purchases the lot,” Dam Chinda says, but complains that the price is not yet reasonable, as the cost of imported silk has increased tremendously.
“If the price were just a little higher, it would be a real encouragement and I would raise more silkworms.”

Dam Chinda says her mother always reserved 200 silkworms from each generation for breeding.

Raising silkworms doesn’t interfere with other work, and family members have time to engage in farming and plantations.

Tep Ham, who raised silkworms for many years, says many generations of her family had done the same. Even during the Pol Pot regime, family members collected  silkworms to raise them in one place. After the collapse of the regime, she began raising them at her home again.

“I learned it from my mother. My mother learned it from my grandmother. My grandmother learned it from my great-grandmother. Now my children are learning it from me,” Tep Ham says.

“I stopped when my children grew up, but every year I still raise silkworms. I never stop, even in the dry season.”

Tep Ham says many villagers abandoned this traditional practice because they thought it was hard work and considered it sinful, because it involved killing live silkworms.

“In the past, there were many silkworm-raisers _ almost every family. Now  the only ones  remaining are me, my sister and another villager,’’ she says.

Dam Chinda’s husband, Vath Hay, 30, took a one-month course in Siem Reap to learn how to look after silkworms.

He says the training provided a good resource for him to preserve the traditional way of producing silk for his family’s income.