Hill Tribe silver jewelry is renowned throughout the world for its purity, beautiful artisan crafting & exquisite designs, but the origins of this ancient art form are as “misty” as a winter’s morning in the mountains of Northern Thailand!!.
For Several Centuries a sizeable proportion of the population of Northern Thailand has been made up of different ethnic groups, the largest of these cultural groups are commonly known as ‘Hill Tribes’.
There are up to fifteen groups in total, but the five main ones are: Karen Akha , Lisu ,Hmong & Lahu .Each tribe is also divided into clans or sub-groups, which then have distinct customs, rituals, clothing & languages with common linguistic roots.
The largest & oldest of the Hill Tribe groups is the Karen (pronounced Kar-ren) which numbers approximately 400,000 within Thailand, and up to a further eight million who live just over the border in Myanmar.
The earliest settlements in Thailand were established within the 17th century and from then until the 1960’s the Karen Hill Tribe (who are primarily subsistence farmers who live at peace with nature and the forests), led a semi-nomadic life using Swidden(slash and burn) farming methods to produce rice, vegetables and opium, moving from one area to another on a seven year cycle.
It was as recently as 1969 that His Majesty King Bhumibol, Thailand’s reigning monarch, initiated ‘The Royal Project for the Hill Tribes’.
This project was set up to address the problems that were being caused by both their farming methods & also reduce dramatically their reliance on the Opium Crops that flourished all around Northern Thailand at that time.
To address these problems and to also help improve their quality of their lives the King granted the Hill Tribe groups long-term permission to reside within his Kingdom (up until then they had always been just migrants, with no rights at all), they were provided with Thai ID’s & land rights. In exchange for this the King insisted they switch farming methods & cease growing the Crops of Poppies .
It was during the Royal Project that King Bhumibol learned of the Karen Hill Tribes Traditional Jewelry making skills which had been passed down through generations for hundreds of years.
To help “commercialise” these skills he provided them with the silver, tools and a series of contacts that allowed them to become more self sufficient, and within a few years a potentially lost art was revived.
Today, Karen Hill Tribe artisans are taught to carefully handcraft each design from scratch, using only high-content silver (97%-99% pure) & employing traditional methods & tooling.
Each Handmade Piece is a unique masterpiece that is the result of centuries of Karen Hill Tribe culture and art.
Typically, this Beautiful Jewelry is engraved with plants, flowers, animals, or geometric designs, symbolizing their direct connection & historical links to both the land and water.
The “distribution” centre for this production is Chiang Mai, the Karen Hill Tribe families still travel into the city once a week to Trade Their Wares as they have done for generations, and from Chiang Mai their Distinctive Jewelry is then sold and shipped to EVERY corner of the world.