The Fine Crafts of Banana Leaves

A unique centuries old Thailand's crafting tradition with banana leaf

By The Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Creation of Siamese Fine Arts with Banana Leaves (2021-08-25) by The Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat UniversityThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Creation of Siamese Fine Arts with Banana Leaves

The arts and craft of banana-leaf utensils is developed extraordinarily from ancient wisdom. It is not limited to only make food containers or oblations in religious festivals, but adapted to ever-changing lifestyle of the present: using in modern flower arrangement or even making fashionable ornaments and purses.  

Selecting Leaves (2021-08-25) by The Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat UniversityThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Selecting Leaves

The Thais are accustomed of using leaves in wrapping food, crafting utensils, and making oblations for religious ceremonies. The most common leaves to use are banana leaves which can be found in every corner of Thailand.

Cleaning Banana Leaves (2021-08-25) by The Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat UniversityThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Cleaning Banana Leaves

Banana plants are known in Thailand for a very long time. Every part of it is beneficial: the fruit is edible, the fiber in the stem can be dried and used as weavings and the leaves can be crafted in to food-containers, utensils and oblations used in religious ceremonies.

Sewing Banana Leaf (2021-08-25) by The Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat UniversityThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Sewing Banana Leaf

The banana leaf has always been associated with Thai culture. We can see evidence in ‘Royal Ceremonies of the Twelve Months’ which referred to lanterns-floating ceremony from Sukhothai era. In the past, the lanterns were made of flowers but have been modified to be made of folded banana leaves instead in the present.

Krathong (Water Floating Lantern) (2021-08-25) by The Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat UniversityThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Krathong (Water Floating Lantern)

The Krathongs (water floating lanterns) are made during Loy Krathong Festival, to contain flowers, incense, candles and other things to use as an offering to Kongka, the water Goddess, appreciating her kindness of protecting the rivers and giving Thai people access to water usage through the years. 

Crafting Bai-sri (Oblation Containers) (2021-08-25) by The Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat UniversityThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Crafting Bai-sri (Oblation Containers)

Banana leaves are also associated with religious festivals. They are used as oblation containers called Bai-Sri. The Bai-sri is used to contain offerings, plants and grains according to Brahmanism in paying respect to the sacred Gods for Thai people. 

Pak-sharm: The Prototype of Bai-sri (2021-08-25) by The Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat UniversityThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Pak-sharm: The Prototype of Bai-sri

The prototype of Bai-sri called Park-sharm consists of 3 main bodies to pay respect to the Trimurti: Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. The center cone of Bai-sri contains steamed rice, the other 2 sides contain Pisang Awak banana and cucumber. The main body of Bai-sri represents Mount Kailash, the heart of abundance of all beings. The in-between space is made to resemble the shape of a horseshoe crab representing the ocean which nourishes all livings.

Containing Food in Banana-leaf Utensils (2021-08-25) by The Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat UniversityThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Containing Food in Banana-leaf Utensils

Apart from religious beliefs, banana leaves are also used to craft everyday utensils: making various forms of food wraps and containers from simple utensils for civilians to delicate innovations for the royal family. 

Banana-Leaf Food Container (2021-08-25) by The Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat UniversityThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

Banana-Leaf Food Container

Making food containers from banana leaves imitates utensils made of clay or others. They are made by folding, weaving, and sewing banana leaves.

Banana Leaf – Siamese Fine Arts (2021-08-25) by The Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat UniversityThe Office of Arts and Culture, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University

The Fine Crafts of Banana Leaves

Making food containers and wraps using banana leaves has always been a part of Thai culture. Though there has been no tangible evidence stating when the custom was initiated, we’ve seen proofs that the custom was practiced in the ‘Royal Kitchen’ where ladies-in-waiting crafted unique and marvelous food containers and decorations for Thai Monarchs throughout history. 

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