The Fabrics of Raya and the Last Dragon

I haven’t seen the movie yet, so don’t worry there are no spoilers here. What actually made me view the trailer several times and in slo-mo was to see the representation of the indigenous material culture of Southeast Asia. I have a fascination with textile and fabrics, especially those made by indigenous communities or ethnic minorities.

Like the issue of representation of Southeast Asia on the choice of voice actors in the production of the animation, there are also layers of conundrums patched on their use of motifs from the indigenous textiles of the region.

There’s a scene when Sisu, the last dragon, shape-shifted into a human being. She turned out a hermit-looking girl wearing an indigo dyed-kimono, a similar garment can be seen among the ethnic minorities in Northern Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.

Raya’s cloak also caught my attention. The collar is embroidered with blue thread shaped in triangles, and I can see it took inspiration from the embroidery technique of the Kalinga, one of the indigenous communities in the Northern Philippines.

The waistband of the princess in the white tribe has a similarity with the ikat weaving design of the Indigenous Peoples in Borneo island.

I am nitpicking the details that I see are inspired by the textile design of indigenous communities because I anticipate a merchandise trend (from dolls, to stickers, to T-shirts and whatever kind of items you can think of) will come along from it that could complicate the already complicated argument about cultural appropriation of the material culture of ASEAN Indigenous Peoples.

Fabrics, Vietnam

My friend in the Philippines recently shared a post on Facebook about a mass-produced copy of the traditional weaving design of the indigenous communities in the Cordilleras of Northern Philippines. The copies are new in my country, but fake ethnic textiles seem to have arrived earlier in Vietnam. Anywhere in Hanoi, I see fabricated traditional textiles of ethnic minorities printed in cheap polyester fabrics.

Fabrics, Vietnam

Cultural appropriation of Indigenous Peoples’ material culture happens when the power is taken away from the production and yielded to capitalists. Take for example, Max Mara, a billion-dollar owned Italian fashion house was accused of plagiarising the traditional designs of the Oma ethnic minority group of Laos in 2019. Similarly, Christian Loubotin came out with limited edition designs called Manilacaba in 2018. He used woven fabrics from different indigenous communities in the Philippines for his designer tote bags.

Both Max Mara’s and Christian Loubotin’s ethnic-inspired apparels are sold at a hefty price, you can only afford if you belong to the privileged class. The only difference is that the former atelier denies the allegation of plagiarism while the latter is open about its source and has donated 10 percent of the profit to a women’s organization. Max Mara is the culture vulture and Loubotin is the benevolent capitalist.

The intricate patterns of hand-woven fabrics take years of training to perfect and many days of labour to produce. It took generations of artisans, mostly women, to enhance patterns that are not only palatable to the eyes but are also exquisitely excellent. Not to mention, these practices survived colonization. To have the likes of Loubotin, Max Mara, or producers of fake ethnic fabrics earn more profit than the people whose blood and ancestry flow in every fiber of the design – is capitalism.

Capitalism is the economic system that placed Indigenous Peoples to the margins of society, most communities exposed to tourism rely from the sale of handwoven textiles for survival. Disney having a humongous clout would have a positive financial effect on the artisans and merchants of indigenous textiles. But it would also signal the interest of bigger players on taking inspiration from the ‘undiscovered’ aesthetics of Indigenous Peoples. Thank you, Disney – but no.

Taking inspiration, borrowing is not necessarily being frowned upon by indigenous artisans. In their communities, learning a particular craft is open to everyone. There is also no such thing as private Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) – concepts, values, systems, patterns, designs are community-owned. Sounds like socialism, right? But this is where indigenous communities get disadvantaged in the capitalist system. Big fashion companies copy or use ethnic designs then have their product patented with IPR – meaning, it is a criminal act to imitate their expensive apparels.

It is high time Disney produces animations that aim to represent under the radar communities in the entertainment industry. But this comes with a price, albeit not directly correlated, an unworthy cost for us Indigenous Peoples nonetheless. Unless, big ateliers and even medium-scale fashion companies will be sensitive and ethical enough to find a way not only to advance equal financial gain, but also take inspiration from our beautiful almost egalitarian traditional economic systems. In short, do beyond what Disney did in tokenizing our motifs for their profit.

Disney has made me excited about Raya, but I have yet to watch the film to see if their inspirations rolled in the credits. If they’re true to their advancement of representation, then we deserve at least to be acknowledged.

By Dumay Solinggay for Vietnam Insider

News Related


20th Century Music Concert Series: Concert No.1

Series of Music programs from the 20th century will present to the audience the works from authors that have not performed much in Vietnam yet, especially musicians during the volatile length of the… Read more »

Exhibition: “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains”

In commemoration of the 150th birth anniversary of Rosa Luxemburg, the Non-governmental organization of Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung in Hanoi will organize an exhibition titled “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains”, showcasing… Read more »

French films will be broadly screened in Vietnam

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has granted permission to screen French films in Vietnam for the year of 2021. “A Man and a Woman” (French: Un homme et une femme) is a… Read more »

The Gala Concert “Hope” at Hanoi Opera House

Hanoians will be treated to some outstanding masterpieces by both international and Vietnamese composers starting from 8pm on March 12 at the Hanoi Opera House.   This 90-minute-performance features the symphony titled “Hope”… Read more »

March will be eventful month with loads of cultural activities

The cultural activities will draw the participation of nearly 100 non-professional artists and people from 14 ethnic groups in 12 provinces and cities throughout the nation such as Thai Nguyen, Hanoi, Ha Giang,… Read more »

“In Progress” to bridge art and education

“In Progress”, a pastime program, is slated to take place in Hanoi from March to May, will introduce a series of art and cultural events to local people.  “Virtual private realms” project, one… Read more »

Illustrated paintings of Hanoi streets by Bui Xuan Phai

There is absolutely no doubt that Bui Xuan Phai is the artist who discovered the beauty of Hanoi. Phai is the first ever Hanoian painter who draw the ancient streets after the revolution… Read more »

Art show “Only love remains” to honour doctors and medical staffs

An art event entitled “Only love remains” will broadcast live on VTV2 channel of Vietnam Television at 9pm on February 26 on the occasion of the 66th anniversary of the Vietnamese Doctor’s Day… Read more »

Where to go in Vietnam: Another sky in Ta Xua mountain of Son La

Ta Xua is a newly discovered place with many amazing things for those who love to roam the mountains in the North West of Vietnam, where the beauty of wildness and romance can… Read more »

Hang Trong folk print- a touch of the legacy in the modern life

Just plain folk Hand-painted or wood-engraved paintings are on display at a wet market stall next to meat and vegetables are barely seen anywhere in the world. In Vietnam, though, it’s a common… Read more »

Top four richest people in Vietnam in the early 20th century

Huyen Sy – Richer than the King The sculptors of Huyen Sy and his wife, also the grandparent of the last Queen in Vietnam – the Nam Phuong Queen. Documentary photo. Born in 1841… Read more »

Tokyo International Foto Awards honours Vietnamese photographer

According to the TIFA 2020 Organizing Committee, photographer Khanh Phan won the gold prize in the Human/ Culture category with the photo entitled “The children’s dancing with gongs”, and the silver prize in… Read more »

Gambling in Vietnam: Here’s what to watch for

Are you in Vietnam and looking to engage in gambling? Well, gambling in Vietnam is illegal and restricted to all nationals. However, Vietnamese citizens can still play in online casinos registered by foreign… Read more »

Pleasure for narcissus flower at Tet

A pleasure of the old time Narcissus is regarded as a noble flower with a pure and elegant beauty and scent. Therefore, it is favoured to enjoy and display at Tet. In the… Read more »

The battlefield of Ngoc Hoi - Dong Da, a triumph of cunning and courage

Immortal battle in the history  Dong Da hillock is a historical relic located on Tay Son street of Quang Trung ward in Dong Da district, northeast Hanoi’s centre. Over 230 years ago, in… Read more »

Hanoi opens spring book street

The 2021 Spring Book Street is taking place in Hanoi until February 21 (the 10th day of the first lunar month), introducing books of different genres to visitors in celebration of the Lunar… Read more »

The dance of ‘girls playing drums’

The clourful festival of Trieu Khuc village lasts from the 9th to the 12th day of the first lunar month (or 20 to 23 February this year) with the procession of Phung Hung… Read more »

Bonsai kumquat in typical houses is favored

Together with peach and ochna, a kumquat is seen as one of the indispensable ornament plants of many Vietnamese families during the festive holiday. A fruit-laden kumquat tree makes a house brighter and… Read more »

The beauty of Vietnamese landscape and people are honored in Travel Photographer Awards

The global outreach of the awards – about to embark on their 19th year – is evidenced by the fact that almost 25,000 images were submitted from photographers in 147 countries, with Vladimir… Read more »

Vietnamese identity through 1010 buffaloes display

Duong Lam ancient village in Son Tay District (Hanoi) these days has turned into an art space with the display of 1010 gold-inlaid wooden buffaloes, providing visitors a unique experience of Vietnamese culture… Read more »

Dream Plus Library opens

The Inauguration Ceremony of Dream Plus Library took place on January 27, at the Hanoi Library. The opening ceremony of Dream Plus Library. Photo: Hanoi Library.  This is a project promoted by the… Read more »

Hanoi holds various art programs to welcome 13th National Party Congress

According to the Department of Culture and Sports of Hanoi, in order to welcome the 13th National Party Congress, Hanoi will host many art programs. An art performance took place at the monument “Determined… Read more »

Experience Vietnamese traditional Lunar New Year at Thang Long Imperial Citadel

Tet, or Lunar New Year, is the most important festival in Vietnam, an occasion for family reunion, so people visit their relatives and friends, prepare and enjoy holiday together. Tet decoration at Thang… Read more »

Exhibition "Goodbye to the Rat -Welcome to the Buffalo” celebrates Tet 2021

The exhibition entitled “Goodbye to the Rat – Welcome to the Buffalo” welcomes visitors from 4pm on January 23 and lasts until January 29 at the Exhibition House, No 29 Hang Bai. A… Read more »

“Eroica 2020” video installation to close Beethoven 250th anniversary celebrations

‘Hotel Beethoven’ is an exhibition about Beethoven life and works, which has been organized by BOZAR, the Center for Fine Arts in Brussels, in collaboration with the Bundeskunsthalle Bonn. John Baldessari, Beethoven‘s Trumpet… Read more »

LiveSpace Vietnam gathers underground artists

LiveSpace Vietnam, a playground launched by L’Espace, Moonsoon Music Festival and the The Thao & Van Hoa newspapethe, is calling for the submission of talented Vietnamese underground music bands from January 7 to February 28,… Read more »

“The Unseen River” will screen at the prestigious US film festival

Produced by the Luang Prabang Film Festival (LPFF), “The Unseen River” is one of five short films from the MEKONG 2030 anthology, a collection of narratives that envision the future of the Mekong… Read more »

A Vietnamese photographer won photo Monochrome Awards

The photo entitled “Buddha statue on the roof of Indochina” by photographer Le Viet Khanh has just won the 3rd prize in Professional category of Monochrome Awards – a world’s prestigious black and… Read more »

Vietnam hosts two annual e-sports tournaments from 2021

The Vietnamese e-Sports Championship (VEC) and the e-Sports Tournament (UEC) will be held on the annual basis, starting from 2021 by the Vietnam Recreational and Electronic Sports Association (VIRESA).  Vietnam hosts two annual… Read more »

Tet custom to be re-enacted in Hanoi

On the occasion of Vietnamese traditional Lunar New Year of the Ox 2021, the Dinh Lang Viet (Vietnamese Communal House) club and the Hanoi Old Quarter management board hold a Tet celebration event… Read more »

The colour of Spring

An exhibition entitled “New 5” featuring spring-themed artworks is on display at 29 Hang Bai exhibition hall in Hanoi from 7 to 12 January. A painting of artist Nguyen Huu Khoa is display at… Read more »

"The flute player" exhibition opens in Hanoi

Poet Nguyen Quang Thieu introduces 53 paintings with various materials in his first solo exhibition called “The flute player”, which opens to public from January 7 to 15, 2021. Nguyen Quang Thieu’s poets… Read more »

Tet craft playgrounds to re-enact Vietnamese Tet games & craft

Traditional and modern tastes meet at Tet Craft Playgrounds, Hanoi’s most fabulous craft event to bid farewell to the year 2020, where young Hanoi locals and expats hit the Tet right at the… Read more »

"A night of Jarai ethnic’s music and talk" to perform in Hanoi

A special night of music and talk named “Am I a man who dreamt of being a sound, or am I a sound dreaming that I am a man?” by two Jrai artists… Read more »

New Puppet Show debuts

The puppet show is a combination of many different puppetry genres including water puppetry, land puppetry and human puppetry which will be performed on the soundtrack of Vietnamese folk music. The show aims… Read more »

Fireworks explode in the sky of the city

 In Hoan Kiem Lake.  It a memorable time of many Hanoians. Read more »

Tet rituals of Vietnamese ethnic people will be re-enacted

On the occasion of the New Year’s Eve 2021, the Vietnam National Village for Ethnic Culture and Tourism will hold a special cultural exchanged program, taking place from December 31 to January 3,… Read more »

The Road to Thang Long: Vo Nguyen Giap - A Vietnamese immortal

The red thread of the book Right in chapter one of the novel, the main character Vo Nguyen Giap appears, and until the end, becoming a guiding thread throughout the work. The image… Read more »

Peaceful Hanoi through the lens of Thomas Billhardt

A peaceful and idyllic Hanoi with pictures of children playing beside the tram railway in Hang Dao street and long lines of people cycling on the street returned in the photo collection entitled… Read more »

Flamingo Contemporary Art Museum launched: desire made reality

The Flamingo Museum of Contemporary Art was launched on December 26 at Flamingo Dai Lai Resort displaying more than 120 artworks contributed by nearly 70 domestic and international artists. On this occasion, the Flamingo… Read more »

Memories of Hanoi through street paintings

There is a corner of the capital city that many tourists look for these days. It is because they have found out a miniature Hanoi at “Phuc Tan Public Art Project” on a… Read more »

JF Garage Concert

The Japan Foundation Center for Cultural Exchange in Vietnam presents its 23rd act of the JF Garage Concert by Hanoi Brass Band & Friends in Hanoi on Friday, December 25, 2020. The invitation… Read more »

Hanoi displays high altitude fireworks in New Year’s Eve 2021

Hanoi People’s Committee has issued Official Letter No. 5855 / UBND-KGVX on December 24, 2020 on organizing fireworks display to welcome the New Year of 2021. A firework display at Hoan Kiem Lake/… Read more »

Vietnam to host the World Boxing Organization title fight

The Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Quang Ngai Province plans to host the clash at the central province’s Pham Van Dong Sport Stadium on Feb. 27 next year. Artist impression of… Read more »

Kim Ngan communal house - the meeting place for lovers of ca tru singing

In mid 2011, Kim Ngan communal house   became a cultural and performing arts venue when it was chosen as a meeting place for lovers of ca tru singing. Kim Ngan communal house was… Read more »

Celebrate Christmas and New Year on the "train back to childhood"

Christmas and New Year is an ideal opportunity for Vietnamese families and foreign friends in Vietnam to gather, say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new year with so much hope.… Read more »

Special art performance of "The Hanoi epic" honors Vietnamese Army

The event, broadcast live on Hanoi Television, also aimed to commemorate the 74th anniversary of National Resistance Day and the 48th anniversary of Dien Bien Phu’s aerial victory over US airstrikes in Hanoi.… Read more »

Christmas festive music night opens to public

A Christmas music night entitled “Hanoi Retro & Rap Xmas Party”, organized by Hanoi Opera House, will take place at the August Revolution Square in Hanoi 8pm on December 24. According to the… Read more »

Hanoi will host music programme at Opera House on Christmas Eve

The square has been the stage for many cultural and entertainment events, but this will be the first time a Christmas festival is held there and hosted by the opera house. According to Chu… Read more »

Who is the first Vietnamese singer to hit eight million subscribers on YouTube?

The number of followers of Son Tung M-TP Official galloped overnight from 7.6 million to 8.1 million on the evening of December 20. The singer-songwriter is followed by pop star My Tam with… Read more »