Review of Sinxay by Dr. Eric Crystal

Review of Sinxay by Dr. Eric Crystal

The illustration above of Sinxay triumphantly returning to the palace at Muang Pengchan was drawn by Nick Bowen.

The following review was written by Dr. Eric Crystal, Vice-Chair, Center for Southeast Asia Studies. U.C. Berkeley (Ret.)

The mythical Lao culture hero Sinxay is vividly brought to life in this new publication by Peter and Baythong Whittlesey, faithfully detailing the centuries old story. Their book is not only cogently written, it is also beautifully illustrated with a combination of commissioned paintings, enhanced temple murals and creative photography. The book emphasizes the the moral and ethical principles which underlay an ancient poem once faithfully recited in temples throughout Laos and northeast Thailand at crucial festivals and life crisis rites. Sinxay also brings the importance and relevance of the story directly into the modern world with analysis of contemporary textile design, Buddhist temple decoration, and contemporary interpretation of a key culture hero. The clear, concise and fluid style of this book makes it relevant for area studies scholars, students of Southeast Asia and the general public alike. This modern reinterpretation of a story never before available to English language readers will be a valuable addition to any library. As the first English presentation of the story of Sinxay this book is a remarkable initial contribution by two independent scholars based in Sacramento, California.

In this review Dr. Crystals highlights the importance and relevance of contemporary Lao textile design that we discuss in our book. In Chapter 4, which we title Localization of Sinxay in Laos, we look at different textile motifs that are connected with characters in Sinxay. One such motif is the siho motif. As is told in the story of Sinxay, one of his brothers is named Siho, who has the body of a lion and head of an elephant. We write in the chapter:

Carol Cassidy, owner of the well-known textile gallery, Lao Textiles, in Vientiane, features the siho motif in one of her famous replicas of traditional Lao textile designs. She told us that her use of the motif goes back to 1993, when she was planning an exhibit, “Lao Textiles Revisited,” in New York City. For the weaving demonstration, she featured two looms; on one of them a weaver wove a supplementary weft design that was both traditional and historic. For the prominent motif in this design, Cassidy chose Siho having seen the motif used in many older textiles. Cassidy writes in an information card provided with each textile, “The Siho, a mythological composite half-lion, half-elephant, is unique to the Lao culture and is considered to be imbued with special powers. The Siho is usually shown with an ancestor figure riding on its back.”

Below you can see the Siho motif in one of Cassidy’s textiles and an outline of the Siho figure.

For those who are interested in Lao textiles and the mystery and magic of weaving, we’re including a video below  we took of Carol discussing the importance of creativity and imagination for Lao weavers.



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