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From The Three Axes, a traditional Karen Fairy Tale, as told by Karen Refugee Students:

The fairy told her I will go and look for your fathers axe in the spring. The fairy went into the spring to look for the axe.

This photograph and quilt are the ninth in a series of 14 episodes which depict the Karen fairy tale of The Three Axes. The quilts were created in stages. First some students acted out the tale while others photographed the scenes. Next the students developed the film and made prints of each scene in a bamboo darkroom. The negatives were used to project each image onto a large piece of canvas and the scene was traced on the cloth as a guide. Finally with the help of nursery school teachers, elders, neighbors, and participants in a weaving vocational program, the quilts were sewn. The project turned into a community art event, bringing together the skills of many peopleweaving, embroidery, sewing, drawing, painting, and acting. The resulting quilts are not only a work of art but also a bridge connecting past and present.

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Refugees undergoing rapid political and cultural transitions face the challenge of establishing new communities while retaining cultural traditions and heritage. More than 120,000 refugees from the Karen ethnic group have fled Myanmar (Burma) to seek asylum and build a new life in Thailand. This photograph and quilt are the result of an effort by youngsters in the Karen refugee camp to create visual art representing their age-old oral storytelling tradition.

The Three Axes

Once upon a time, a father and his daughter lived in a small village near a mountain. He had an axe and used it to cut firewood in the forest.

They went to the forest everyday to cut firewood.

Then they would sell bundles of firewood in a nearby town for living.

One day, while the father was taking a rest, the daughter accidentally dropped the axe in a spring.

As they had only one axe, they could no longer cut firewood to sell. They were running out of their food to eat.

The daughter felt responsible for dropping the axe, so she went out into the forest looking for food to eat.

When she found a big papaya, a fairy suddenly popped out from inside.

What is the matter, why are you crying? the fairy asked her. I lost my fathers only axe. Because of my fault, now we do not have any more food to eat, she said to the fairy.

The fairy told her I will go and look for your fathers axe in the spring. The fairy went into the spring to look for the axe.

Soon, the fairy brought her a golden axe from the spring. Then she brought it to her father and asked him Can we take this axe? The father said No, this is not my axe.

The fairy then brought her a silver axe from the spring. She brought it to her father again and asked Can we take this axe? The father said No, no, that is not my axe!

The fairy finally brought the fathers axe to the daughter. She then brought it to the father, who was very happy to find his own axe.

You are very honest man. I will give you all three axes. The fairy who saw all this gave the gold, silver and the old axe to the father.

The father and the daughter were able to go back to the forest again to cut firewood just like they used to but with two extra axes.
Photograph by Saw YTaeh, inset photograph by Mark Christmas/Nationalgeographic.com
 
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