Pragueam & Takao: The Silver Heritage of Surin
Pragueam [photo: National News Bureau of Thailand]
According to a local saying, “Ladies of Surin province wear silk and Pragueam”. While silk is well-known and produced in many places, Pragueam (ประเกือม), the silver beads made using a special and centuries-old technique, is unique to Khwao Sinrin District, Surin Province.
A northeastern province rich in craftsmanship and home to masters of fine arts, Khwao Sinrin is famous for silver ornaments influenced by Khmer art. It is also a major melting pot where people of Khmer, Lao, and Kui descent have lived together for centuries. Through this melting of culture, they came to possess many unique traditions and heritage.
The story of Pragueam and Takao (ตะเกา) in Khwao Sinrin District dates back to the late Ayutthaya Period (1359-1767) when groups of goldsmiths and silversmiths from Southern Cambodia migrated to Khu Prathai Village, now a Surin town. Bringing their expertise in jewelry making with them, these metalworkers started crafting gold and silver jewelry for sale after settling down in the area. Their descendants later moved to Ban Chok Khwao Sinrin Village, which is known today as the center of Pragueam and Takao (silver earrings) production.
In the past, people considered silver ornaments to be sacred objects. Believing it would protect the little ones from bad luck, old people would give silver jewelry to young children. Silver Pragueam and Takao are therefore more than just decorations; they are sacred gifts meant to protect the owners.
With only a few craftsmen with the special skills required for this art, Pragueam and Takao have become rare today. In fact, only two masters of the 7th generation of the original silversmiths from Cambodia remain: Puan Jiaothong in Ban Chok Village and Panya Butchat in Ban Na Tang Village. Fortunately, they are continuing to train their children and interested students in this skill.
The two men are actually farmers. After the harvest season, they travel to Ubon Ratchathani province to buy gold and silver. Over the next few months, they gradually make the beads and earrings and create attractive bracelets, chains, rings, necklaces, and other jewelry for sale in Surin and the neighboring provinces of Buriram and Si Saket.
[cr. FB: เครื่องเงินสุรินทร์และผ้าไหมทอมือ]
Takao is also called Takerw (ตะเกอว) or Kajon (กะจอน), both of which also mean earrings. These unique earrings boast a delicate flower and plant design. Takao is made from either gold or silver and has a round centerpiece and long looped posts. Traditional designs are all named after different types of flowers, and more designs have been created in recent years to provide modern touches.
Originally, the Takao was used for earrings. Sometimes, they were connected to form a long chain to wear on the chest. More recently, silversmiths have crafted them into belts, bracelets, and rings.
The silversmith has to fashion the Takao by hand, piece by piece. After the fine silver is selected, it will be melted and made into fine strings. The master then bends each of them bit by bit to form tiny flowers. It is impossible to build a mold and produce Takao in large quantities. The time and effort spent is reflected in the relatively high price.
[cr. FB: ประเกือมล้ำค่า มรดกภูมิปัญญาเขวาสินรินทร์]
Pragueam beads are generally strung as necklaces. They come in two designs – tubular and round beads. While the former is called “Jarn” (จาร) and usually carved with letters of the ancient Khmer script, the latter is known as “Pragueam’’. In the past, Jarn and Pragueam were woven alternately to create a necklace.
Later, silversmiths created new designs like money bags, lucky insects, spiders, jars, star apple, gourd, lotus, sun and tiny flowers. This added variety to Pragueam and made it more appealing to young customers.
Pragueam also requires high skills and lots of tools. Some of the necessary equipment include a scale, blow torch, some chemicals used to mix gold or silver, molds, different types of tongs, scissors, hammers and a cold-water.
“It takes so much patience, energy, and passion. A Pragueam maker has to have a good eye for detail. That’s why only a few people want to become Pragueam makers,” said Sanong Khaokrua, a 50-year-old Pragueam craftsman who learned the skill from Puan Jiaothong.
“Saen Sanob” – Pay Respect and Be Blessed
In any field of Thai and Khmer art, those who practice arts traditionally pay respect to the teachers in order to be blessed and become successful. Teachers, for art people, do not mean only the persons who teach, but also the important tools and instruments used in creating artistic works. For Pragueam and Takao, the ceremony to pay respect to teachers is called Saen Sanob (แซนสน็อบ). Saen means to pay respect while sanob is the air pump, an important tool in jewelry making.
Saen Sanob is usually held once a year during the Saen Don Ta (แซนโฎนตา) festival where people with Khmer ancestry pay respect to their ancestors. Pragueam and Takao makers all return home to pay respect to the jewelry masters and the tools that they also regarded as their teachers.
Traditional Techniques Rule
Although modern technology has changed the way many other local products are produced, a small group of silver masters in Khwao Sinrin District stick to the traditional techniques for making Pragueam and Takao. Despite the use of some modern tools, the silver masters’ spirit in making these ornaments has never changed.
“It’s hard work, but the appreciation is priceless,” say the two masters, Puan and Panya.
Oasjessada, Pattanun. Pragueam Takao Moradok Chao Surin [Pragueam, Takao: the Silver Heritage of Surin]. Watthanatham Journal: Department of Cultural Promotion, vol. 53, no. 2, April-June 2014, p.25-30. Available at http://magazine.culture.go.th/2014/2/Culturemag2014-2/assets/common/downloads/CultureMag2014-2.pdf.