KHT: Karen Hilltribes Trust
Know the story
Who are the Karen?
The Karen (pronounced Ka-REN, not KA-ren) are a peaceful hill tribe people who live in the lowland mountainous regions of northern Thailand, Burma and Laos. They live traditionally in bamboo houses on stilts, they are monogamous and their staple diet is rice which they cultivate in wet paddies on the lower slopes. They do not grow poppies for opium.
There is a historical link between the British and the Karen peoples of Burma:
50,000 Karen supported the British during World War II. The Karen were hailed as heroes for the part they played and many were awarded distinguished service medals for gallantry and loyalty, some for saving the lives of British soldiers. One WWII veteran Lisa knew was carried, delirious with malaria, out of enemy territory to the safety of a Karen village. His words to Lisa were..” we trusted the Karen with our lives, that’s why we owe them so much”.
About our partners, The Karen Hilltribes Trust:
The Karen Hilltribes Trust is a community led organisation working with the Karen people living in Mae Hong Son, one of Thailand’s poorest provinces. Their mission is to empower Karen communities to improve their health, livelihoods and education.
Projects are designed, built and maintained by the communities who receive support, using their local knowledge. This approach achieves results which are high in impact, low in cost and sustainable. The vision of the Karen Hilltribes Trust is a more self-sufficient future for the Karen in which they can provide for their own basic needs.
To find out more watch their video below:
The Karen Silver Story:
All our Karen silver jewellery is lovingly handmade in the Lamphun district of northern Thailand. An area where, for generations Karen families have been passing down the skills to create a beautiful array of traditional jewellery. It is home to many neighbouring Karen communities who have developed an innovative way to overcome adversity and bring in a sustainable income.
Karen jewellery begins life as silver coins which are hammered down into thin sheets. Using moulds and traditional hand tools these are then formed into unique Karen designs. The whole process is very much a community affair with silversmithing skills being shared amongst families. Even the children get involved by lending a helpful hand. The quality of the silver utilised by the Karen is demonstrated by its 99% silver content, higher than sterling silver which is 92.5%. This increases malleability allowing complicated patterns to be carefully created and gives the silver a unique feel.
More information about Karen hill tribe silver:
Though Karen hill tribe silver and sterling silver may seem the same at first glance, they actually have some major differences:
- Unlike sterling silver, which is typically 92.5% pure in silver with the rest being copper or another metal, Karen silver is 98% to 99% pure.
- Sterling silver is usually factory or machine made, as the structure is too strong to be hand- crafted whereas Karen silver is crafted using only hand tools. Karen silver is created using sustainable methods due to the hand tools.
- Karen silver is made using techniques that have been passed down through families for generations in South East Asia.
- Karen silver can easily be melted and remoulded into a completely different design due to its high silver properties, without having to add any additional metal. Sterling silver can also be remoulded, but it is not advisable because additional new metal would have to be added which would further reduce the silver purity.
- As Karen silver ages, rather than creating the regular brown tarnish effect, it becomes a vintage-looking grey, which can easily be polished with baking soda, water and aluminium foil.
- Sterling silver is technically stronger than Karen silver, however because Karen silver is malleable it can be bent without breaking the jewellery piece. Sterling silver, on the other hand, if bent can cause the piece to break.