During the Vietnam War, more than 250 million bombs fell from Laotian skies, making Laos history’s most heavily bombed country per capita. 30 percent of these bombs failed to detonate and continue to threaten lives.
In a resourceful twist, artisans in Naphia village began melting down decommissioned pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and crafting the metal into spoons. Today, the community works with fair trade label Article 22 to make and sell a line of jewelry called peaceBOMB largely to a market where the bombs originated—the United States. Article 22’s founder, Elizabeth Suda, talks to Makeshift from the remote mountain village.
Makeshift: How did people in Naphia learn to melt the bomb metals?
ES: It’s quite mysterious. There was a man from Houaphan Province who found himself in the Naphia village in Xieng Khouang after the war. He was melting the metals and making them into spoons. Other villagers would watch the two men make the spoons, and they would take it up too. Right now, it’s being passed from one family to another, one generation to the next. On any given day you can go there and people will be doing this behind their homes. It’s such a creative solution of turning something negative and destructive into something useful and productive.
Is this not dangerous work, collecting unexploded ordnance?
The Mine Advisory Group is the organization that clears the bombs. They have been doing this for 20 years. The people here are so incredibly well-educated, and they have a very practical approach to this now. They now know what to do and who to call when they come across UXOs in their village.
What is the process from bomb to jewelry?
The artisans have handmade molds, which are made of wood and ash from the fire. They chop the wood from the forest and make it into a square box. They fill that box with the ash or the dirt, which is mixed with water. They make the shape—the impression on both sides of the mold—and let it dry to a plaster. When it’s all dry, they pour the metal that they’ve melted from disabled mines in their kiln into a little hole, shaping out the piece. Once it’s cooled, they sand it smooth—into a unique piece of jewelry.
Have you ever seen any hesitation from artisans to work with these weapons due to the fear and destruction they represent?
Well, I think people have a very practical approach to the bombs at this point. There was obviously a hard time, but attitudes now are a bit different. They see it as an opportunity: these bombs are here, and we may as well do something productive with it. It’s an incredible attitude to have.