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HAMMOCKS & A NEW BEGINNING 

Two years after Peter's decision to dedicate his life to his bike tours, the project was a success. Unfortunately, his initial hammock project was not; neither was his marriage. In 1988 his wife left him and Peter's life changed. He decided to move from Phrae to Pai and before doing so he thought of teaching a few Mlabri how to make hammocks. His decision was more of a small idea rather than a plan or anything. He spoke to Eugene about it and they decided to give it a try, although Eugene was skeptical if this “bird would ever fly”.

Ten girls went to his house and he taught them how to weave hammocks. He gave them the necessary materials and promised them that he would try to sell whatever they produced. The girls returned to the village and Peter moved to Pai where he established his new bike tours company. Nothing was heard of the Mlabri and the hammocks for two months. One day, Peter received a parcel containing ten scruffy, dirty white hammocks. They were the ugliest hammocks he ever saw but he kept his promise and managed to sell them to a store in Pai and sent them the money.

Six months later during a visit to Phrae, he met the Mlabri again and together they worked on improving the project. A few months later they worked on how to dye the cotton strings. The rest is history - Peter kept receiving hammocks and the quality was improving. Within 3 years the whole village was involved. People dying strings, others winding them and the experienced ones weaving the hammocks. Father Eugene was wrong, “the bird did fly” but managing its flight was tough work. Peter would get the orders to Eugene who manages the production together with his son, Allen. The Mlabri had a free hand of when and where to work. They built a weaving hall in the village where everybody could weave hammocks but those who wanted to could weave in the comfort of their homes. Single persons preferred the hall because they met other people while mothers would work from home to be able to do their chores and parent the kids. Whoever finished a hammock would go to Eugene who would inspect the quality and pay the worker.

 Hammock making in the town centre  Checking a hammock  Hammock quality control
The next step was to teach them how to make new styles. With his expertise in weaving and professional experience, Peter improved the Mexican sitting hammock. When his new design was finalized, he called for the Mlabri. In 2001, he opened a new hammock weaving class, 3 years after the first batch of students. This time they had to travel to Pai and that meant a 300km drive, the first time a Mlabri had to travel so far away from home. Only six young guys volunteered for this expedition, who later shared their knowledge with the rest
.

Over the years they learnt how to make nine different types of hammocks, the latest being the Supermlabri V-hammock, an original design by Peter. It took two years to create but it is the most beautiful hammock ever. Its special V-pattern weave which makes the colors look like they are changing when the hammock moves. Once Peter finalised the designs, it took him 10 days to teach the Mlabri how to weave them. Currently Peter is working on his new creation, the Silk Hammock, which is due to go on the market soon. 

THE MLABRI SUCCESS CONTINUES TO THIS DAY

Eugene Long and his wife still live in the Mlabri village, and continue to help improve the tribe's living conditions. They are joined in this effort by their eldest son Allen and his wife, who also oversee the production.

Peter still lives in Pai. He is married to another Thai lady and together they run the hammock shop as well as "Nunya's House", a small guest house in the heart of Pai. He still organizes bike tours and although past accidents and age limit his biking activities, his love and passion for the sport is still strong. As for the hammocks, the sky is the limit. In 2004, 3,000 hammocks were exported to 17 countries, and the demand is increasing.

The hammock business has made the Mlabri one of the most successful tribes in their region. They make more money than the tribes that exploited them 25 years ago. They are now even employing the Hmong tribespeople from a neighboring village to make their baby and parachute-silk hammocks. When asked what the secret of the Mlabri success is, Peter said that the Mlabri people is the secret. When he thought them how to ride a bike, they were not afraid to go out and race the world. Unlike other tribal communities elsewhere in the world who are drowning their inferiority complex in alcohol and drugs, the Mlabri are hard workers and motivated people. They are proud to be who they are and they work diligently to overcome all the obstacles presented by their new world.

Peter remembers a particularly remarkable occasion when the village was faced with a big order. A collective effort was made by the entire village to produce 400 hammocks to be delivered within a month. They worked hard as a team and the deadline was met. Peter gave them a huge pig to celebrate. The pig is still considered a thing of high value by the Mlabri and that is the ultimate gift.

The Mlabri’s love for the forest is still there, they still go hunting and collect favorite foods. While obviously not able to feed themselves like the old days, the jungle still provides some delicacies and occasionall someone would catch a big treat. When an old Mlabri was asked which life he preferred, he confessed that the old one was simpler and better but then again, he knows that it is gone because the jungle is gone.

The Mlabri had a very late start in evolution, only starting about 30 years ago to run the race which we have been in for 5000 years. They lost their land and almost fell into the abyss of dependence and slavery. Like a modern Moses, Eugene saved these people from slavery and took them, as it were, to the promised land. Peter brought the industrial revolution and led them to the world of business. At this rate, it might be a good idea to keep a close eye on the Mlabri people, as who knows, in a couple of years they might be telling us where the world is heading.

NOTE:
At this time, the only Mlabri people who are making hammocks are the ones who live in Ban Bunyuen in Phrae Province. There is another settlement of Mlabri people in Nan Province, with a population roughly equal to those in Ban Bunyuen.  We are hopeful that the hammock making venture will soon be extended to them as well, in the near future.

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