Ei Mer Karen & Karenni Weaving Group of Utah
When Burma (Myanmar) came under military rule in 1962, war was waged against the Karen and other ethnic groups in Burma by burning their villages, forcing them to work as laborers, and murdering countless men, women and children. Since 1975, more than 150,000 Burmese refugees have moved into refugee camps in Thailand and thousands have migrated from these camps to the United States.
Burmese refugees, most of them from the Karen ethnic group, began arriving in Salt Lake City in 2007 with hope of a promising future in an unfamiliar land. The Karen people are grateful for the opportunity to live in the U.S. but they also feel strongly that they need to maintain many of the traditions of their people including their language and weaving.
With help from the Division of Occupational Therapy at the University of Utah, the women were able to obtain the supplies that they need to weave, which are not available in the US. They come to together weekly to weave at the Hartland Partnership Center and while weaving have the opportunity to maintain their social networks, participate in the production of their traditional craft and pass their knowledge of this craft on to the next generation. This opportunity has allowed several of these women and teenage girls to become leaders in their community and entrepreneurs, supplementing their family’s income through sales of their products.