As you walk around the paddy fields and through the villages you form the impression that it is the women who keep the traditions going. It looks like there is a fairly clear division of labour with the men working in the fields ( or driving motorbikes around) and the women making traditional clothing, trinkets and acting as guides. Many do all three at the same time. Hemp is grown in order to produce fibers that are about 1 metre long.
The fibres are spun in the hand to produce a single strand of 30 or 40 metres long. Rumour has it, so Pen says, that some people also smoke the leaves of the hemp plant thus reducing any waste.
Saying the fibers are spun in the hand makes it sound like a simple process. To watch someone doing it also makes it look like a simple process. It is not. I tried it and even with Pens expert tuition and amused impatience I could not do it. The knack is to split one fibre and twist one of the sub strands. You then twist the next fibre and feed it into the split of the first. The final stage is to roll the two fibres together to produce one longer fibre. It is all in the twisting and I could not figure out which what way to twist each bit of the fibre. The result was that they would always pull apart. Pen on the other hand produced a single long string of fibre that was seamless. She wound this around her hand as she walked producing a ball of fibre that could later be woven into a hemp fabric. When her hand got sweaty from the exertion of walking she would wrap her hand in a leaf to protect the hemp from the moisture and carry on.
Indigo is used to dye the woven hemp black. It really is as straightforward as crushing the green leaves from the indigo plant and dying the fabric in the solution.
The hemp strands are woven into cloth and then dyed with the indigo before being made into traditional garments, bags or trinkets. Many of these are sold to travelers but it is not uncommon to see the women continually sewing to add additional decorations to their own clothes.
The traditional market is held in SaPa every Saturday. As Saturday progresses more people arrive to sell their wares and competition for space on the street increases.
Of course not everyone goes to market. Some stay away and try to keep cool.