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.
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.
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.