The last hat weavers of Laya

There are only two traditional hat weavers in the gewog today 

Tradition: When the village festivals draw near, many women in Laya flock to the village hat weaver, Dodo.

The festivals are times women in the village don new traditional attire including the conical headgear.

Layaps are ethnically distinct and a majority of them continue their traditional ways of life. They have distinct language and customs exhibiting cultural coherence and vitality. Young girls wear their traditional dress to school.

In the remote Laya gewog at over 3,800 metres, two days away from the nearest road point, Dodo is busy gathering bamboo in the woods when his friends are enjoying a game of archery.

Dodo, 50, is one of the last two traditional hat weavers in the gewog. Of the five in the village, two died, while the third can’t see properly. Besides Dodo, the other hat weaver is a 40-year-old woman.

“I have to weave a few whenever I get time or else I’ll have to rush later,” Dodo says carrying a bundle of freshly cut bamboo stalks on his shoulder.

He weaves hats whenever he finds time between travelling with horses, tending livestock, and collecting cordyceps.

Dodo can weave a hat a day these days while during summer, he manages to weave two a day. Every hat earns him Nu 500. In the past one year, Dodo has earned about Nu 25,000 from selling bamboo hats.

“The money is not much but I am happy to help preserve our tradition and culture,” the father of four said.

Laya residents said the people had pledged to preserve their tradition to Zhabdrung, who first entered the country through their village in 1616 AD.

“Our parents have handed down a rich tradition to us, but now I am beginning to doubt our children would be able to do the same,” Dodo said.

None of his four children have shown interest in learning his weaving skills. He said there is demand from both locals and tourists for the hats and the gewog boasts of an abundant supply of raw materials for the hats.

However, it is falling short of those making them. Dodo from Neylo said he took three weeks to pick up the skills from a neighbour. That was 15 years ago.

Today, with just the two of them left and the youth not interested to continue their trade, the craft’s future is threatened.

“May be in future, if no one comes forward to learn the skill, our women will wear imported hats,” Dodo said. “It’s a shame should that happen.”

Tshering Palden, Laya

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