Mu Lar Pan, a member of the Kayan minority, spent eight days barefoot and on the run with her husband and small children after they escaped Burma’s oppressive regime in the 1980s.
She then spent 15 years in a refugee camp in northern Thailand. In 2009 she arrived in Nelson and a year later she joined a traditional weaving group called the Sukita Project set up by Dr Kay Sneddon to help keep the traditional art alive.
The early readers book Mu Lar’s Weaving, written and featuring photographs by Maclean Barker, was the brainchild of Sue Heydon, who first met Mu Lar as an ESOL home tutor for English Language Partners and volunteer for Refugee Services.
“I remember seeing her sitting at her loom at one of our first lessons. I’m a weaver myself, and was delighted to meet someone with better skills – her work is so fine.”
Impressed by Mu Lar’s weaving skills, she enlisted Kay’s help and Kay brought Maclean in to the project. Two years after Sue first had the idea, the book has been made a reality thanks also to Dave Knight of Nimbus Advertising and Design who, like Maclean, worked on the project for free.
Mu Lar’s book was launched at the Elma Turner Library in Nelson, on World Refugee Day.
A mother of eight, Mu Lar, 49, said through an interpreter that she was very happy with the book. “I like it very much. I’m very happy when I weave and it’s about my happiness,” she said.
Mu Lar was taught to weave by her mother when she was ten years old and still weaves on a loom made by her father. Maclean said she loved the idea of the book and thought working on it would be a great way to meet Mu Lar.
“She’s got this wonderful unruffled grace about her,” Mclean said. Kay said she hopes the book will inspire other former refugees and migrants to introduce their arts and crafts to the communities where they live. “Mu Lar and her weaving friends who have done that have made Nelson more colourful,” she said.
Sue said she had been overwhelmed by the way the Nelson community had supported the project. “Really talented people have pulled together, for love, basically,” she said. “In the wider sense, I would love to get the book into primary schools. If, in any small way, it can help to support race unity or improve race relations: that would be wonderful. Mu Lar came with nothing, and look what she can do – she’s a real inspiration.”
Mu Lar’s Weaving is available from English Language Partners Nelson for $15.00. Visit the Nelson centre’s web page on this website to order a copy.
Matt Lawrey, reprinted with permission from the Nelson Mail