In Syria, a silk museum in memory of an industry in decline

En Syrie, un musée de la soie en souvenir d'une industrie en déclin

DEIR MAMA | In the Syria war, Mohamed Saud has been deprived of its silk-worms. But after a lifetime devoted to the production of the precious fabric, the sexagenarian has converted his workshop into a modest museum, to pay a last tribute to a craft in decline.

On the green heights in the central province of Hama, in the town of Deir Mama, Mr. Saud, his wife and his three children were formerly in the spring silkworms by feeding mulberry leaves. In the fall, he could then weave the silk from the cocoons to making fabrics.

The economic activity has ceased with the war launched in 2011. But Mr. Saud was keen to install him home to a museum which allows visitors rare — for the time being — to discover the steps to a craft making once a world-wide reputation of Syria.

“Today in our village, I will fight alone to keep the business alive,” said Mr. Saud.

In the courtyard of his house, he shows off the cocoons of silk white that he kept. There is a large wheel dark wood, used for making wires. A dilapidated loom throne in an adjacent room.

“There are more than three families who practice our profession in all of Syria,” says the 65 year-old man to the matte skin.

The AFP had met in 2010 Mr. Saud, who complained already of the difficulties threatening the sector, despite the authorities ‘ efforts to revitalize it.

Our craft was “like a sick man that we hoped the cure,” remembers Mr. Saud.

“Coup de grace”

At the time, about 16 villages and 48 families were employed in the rearing of silk-worms. The production of cocoons was 3.1 tonnes in 2010, compared to 60 000 tons in 1908.

“But the war came to give us the coup de grace”, admits Mr. Saud.

Genuine local celebrity, he is called “Shaykh al-Kar” of the silk, as customary awarded to the deans of the crafts.

On his loom, he made a demonstration, gliding the shuttle to make a piece of fabric. In a corner, the different models of scarves, and shawls white are hung on the wall or draped mannequins sewing.

If the entrance to the museum is free, a few are curious, in a country stuck in a serious economic crisis, marked by a collapse of the currency and soaring prices.

“Silk is a luxury, given the crisis that we live,” admits the sexagenarian.

It depended on mainly tourists before the conflict. “They are the ones who had the means to pay for silk,” says Mr. Saud.

“Today there are no more than memories”, he says, showing off old photos of him alongside visitors, or articles from the press about his workshop.

“It would require the intervention of heaven to save the profession,” he says.

Goats

Syria is famous for its exquisite handicrafts, including the making of the brocade of Damascus, fabric hand-woven with natural silk and gold threads.

An urban legend wants that in 1947, the then-president Shukri al-Koutli, has offered a piece of fabric to queen Elizabeth II, who is said to have used for her wedding dress.

Before the war, the country attracted foreign visitors, who were living crafts, and tourism accounted for 12 % of GDP.

“The tourists were buying the major part of the production. It is exported in large quantities to Lebanon and the gulf countries,” says Mourhaf Rahayyim, an official with the ministry of Tourism.

Today, “the problem boils down to a question of marketing. Silk garments are not a priority for the Syrians,” he continued.

In Deir Mama, wife of Mr. Souad, Amal, practice always the hook to keep the hand, with threads of silk.

Like her husband, she does not hide her sadness in the face of the situation. “There is that we grow still of the mulberry trees”, she says, a shawl white silk, manufactured with the hook, on the shoulders.

“But this year, instead of giving the leaves to the silk worms, we gave them to the goats,” she said.

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