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Living Fabric
Weaving Among the Nomads of Ladakh Himalaya
Ahmed Monisha

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Titolo originale

Living Fabric: Weaving Among the Nomads of Ladakh Himalaya

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Living Fabric : Weaving Among The Nomads Of Ladakh Himalaya

Living Fabric  

Gli spazi del Rupshu, area orientale del Ladakh ai confini con il Chang Tang tibetano, affascinano con i loro mammelloni sabbiosi, "colline" di quasi seimila metri, dove si muovono gli ultimi nomadi. Dediti alla pastorizia ed allevatori di quelle pecore un tempo produttrici di "pashmina" per il pregiato cachemere, i nomadi avevano sviluppato metodi di tessitura e colorazione per la produzione di tappeti, selle tibetane, mantelli e tuniche. Il tutto è stato documentato da Ahmed Monisha per il suo dottorato in Social Anthropology alla Oxford University. La tesi del 1996 è supportata da 188 fotografie tutte inerenti al tema e che ben documentano quanto la lunga ricerca sul campo svolta dalla giovane ricercatrice. Il volume riporta anche una fotografia scattata nel 1930 da Giotto Dainelli che per primo riportò una descrizione del telaio usato in Rupshu.

Weaving touches all aspects of life in eastern Ladakh, where both women and men weave, each on a different loom. Local narrative tells that the craft was bestowed by the gods, and thus all feats related to it have a close connection to the sublime. This first study of the tradition of weaving among the nomadic pastoralists of eastern Ladakh documents and analyzes the ways in which fibers, weaving, and textiles are symbolized, constructed, and experienced, and how themes such as gender, kinship, and hierarchical and spatial relations find ready expression through the design and making of cloth. The author traces the relationship between livestock, weaving, social and symbolic structures in order to understand the multitude of contexts within which wool-oriented activities exist. This richly illustrated work will appeal to those with an interest in textiles, nomads, gender studies, and the Himalayas.


Recensione in altra lingua (English):

“Traditionally Ladakh has been a land of high altitude farmers, cultivating fields along the Indus, and herders roaming the Changthang or ‘northern plain’. Animal hus­bandry was wide­spread since yak, goat and sheep wool were needed for ropes, tents, clothing and other textiles. Spinning and weaving are done in virtually every household.” (Myers 1983, p. 42).

Situated in the high reaches of the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges, Ladakh has a textile tradition largely based on its own local resources of wool and pashmina. Weaving is widely found throughout Ladakh, but the practice is not uniform and differences are recognized. The contrast essentially lies between villages in central and western Ladakh and Changthang, which lies in the north-east of Ladakh and is largely inhabited by nomadic pastoralists. In the former, weaving is exclusively men’s work and a foot loom (treadle loom) is used. In fact, in these same areas women are not permitted to weave. This is unlike Changthang where both men and women weave, each on a different loom.
It is apparent that the textile tradition prevalent in Ladakh is enmeshed in the lives of the people who inhabit that region. From the woolen cloth that women weave to make the garments that adorn their bodies, to the red felt cape thrown across a woman’s shoulders, or the striped pattern a man weaves on a saddlebag tied around a goat’s back - each textile crafted in Ladakh, apart from being functional apparel or useful containers, are also silent storehouses of information. Their color, form, function, the fibers they are made from, and designs they are embellished with, speak about life in Ladakh.
This book looks at traditional weaving systems in Ladakh, and their symbolic representations and interpretations in Ladakhi life. It will examine the historic development of weaving in the region, as well as the various kinds and uses of woven textiles made there. Apart from the textiles woven in Ladakh, several fabrics also entered the region through trade: carpets from Tibet, cotton from India, silk from Yarkand, saddle-covers from Bhutan, brocade from Benaras and China. Ladakh’s trade in textiles will also be described here, as well as the various uses of these imported fabrics.


Monisha Ahmed received her Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from Oxford University in 1996. The subject of her dissertation was the weaving traditions amongst the nomadic pastoralists of Rupshu in Eastern Ladakh (North India). This work is being published as Living Fabric: Weaving among the nomads of Ladakh Himalaya. At present she is working on a project to document the textile arts of Ladakh, which is funded by a fellowship from the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. She spends her time between Bombay where she is a visiting lecturer at the University of Mumbai and National Institute of Fashion Technology, and Ladakh where she is co-founder of the Ladakh Arts and Multi-cultural Outreach Trust that works with arts education and women’s weaving organizations in the region.