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Many of them are subsistence farmers during the rice season, and most have one or two looms set up in houses that lack running water.
I met a young woman, Sinet, who at 20 had been weaving for 6 years like her mother before her.
At the same time weavers are paid less than ever; the prices for finished products have fallen 56%.
Silk weavers are now working extremely close to the margins–or even at a loss–and many of the 20,000 estimated weavers in the country are trying to find other work.
But now the ancient craft is slowly dying as the cost of imported raw silk continues to climb while the price of finished silk textiles drops.
In addition to lowering the costs of silk imports, the government also recognizes the importance of making locally cultivated silk available to weavers and has tried to encourage farmers to begin growing mulberry trees, the main source of food for silkworms. Propagating mulberry trees is not difficult, but many Cambodian farmers prefer to go with more secure crops such as cassava.
I visited the most famous of these islands, Koh Dach, and at house after house saw abandoned looms being used to hang laundry.
55 year old Ny told me that the women of her family have been weaving for generations, since “ancient times.” She taught her five children to weave, including her three sons.
At Angkor Wat, the ancient temple complex built in the early 12th century, images of women wearing traditional silk garments that are still worn today are carved in bas-relief.
Zhou Daguan, a Chinese diplomat who visited Cambodia in the 13th century wrote, in one of the only first-hand accounts of the Angkor empire, about immigrants from Siam raising mulberry trees and silkworms to feed the thriving silk trade.
But instead of the traditional brass crowns dipped in gold and traditionally worn in Cambodia, the dancers in Long Beach’s Khmer refugee community wore crowns made of cardboard, and costumes made of sequins instead of gold thread.