Date of this Version
Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
Cars weave through the flocks of the Gaddi shepherds as they travel from the plains to high altitude deserts, winding along roads lined with shops selling Kullu shawls. In these ways and more, textiles are the face of the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Yet dominant discourses position both the shepherds and weavers of the region as the last hold-outs of endangered traditions. These discourses continue colonial-era assumptions of rural artisans as “primitives” in need of either protection from encroaching industrialization or motivation to modernize. Academic writings, popular visual representations, and government policies also reinforce monolithic identities of herders and weavers. These discourses obscure the diversity of pastoral communities, practices, and products within the state. In this paper, I present vignettes from my ethnographic fieldwork among wool workers in Himachal. The liveliness of these artisans disrupts the assumptions of market-based and governmental livelihood interventions. In place of static and dying tradition, I encounter vibrant patchworks of distinct practices in neighboring valleys, woven together in the movements of shepherds and sheep along grazing routes, of women between their villages of birth and marriage, and of tourists and locals between rural and urban spaces. In place of uneducated artisans reluctant to adopt modern technologies, I find curious villagers eager to engage in skill-share with this anthropological knitter who has brought novel materials, equipment, and techniques from abroad. From the contact zone of our shared work with wool, I draw out the dynamic ways in which these textile artisans continue to create anew the Deep Local within the mountain heights.