Date of this Version
In Approaching Textiles, Varying Viewpoints: Proceedings of the Seventh Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2000
This paper examines traditional weaving systems among the nomadic pastoralists of Rupshu in Eastern Ladakh, North India. Local narrative states that the craft of weaving was bestowed upon Rupshu by the gods. In this region both women and men weave, each on a different loom. During my fieldwork here I interacted with female and male weavers and found that the discourse on women's identification with weaving is stronger in Rupshu than a man's. While it is mandatory that all women, including nuns, weave, it is not essential for a man to weave. In this paper I focus on the significance of a woman's weaving, and the importance of her being a competent and skillful weaver. The metaphors associated with the backstrap loom she uses are symbolic of the birth of a child, and the weaving process expresses a woman's role as a procreator and nurturer of life. Further, her woven cloth, as well as the manner in which she distributes it, demonstrates her ability to create and sustain social structures within Rupshu. In this paper then I have looked beyond the design and making of textiles in Rupshu to reveal the role and properties of the loom and weaving as symbols with a multitude of referents. Today, there is external pressure on women to change the structure of their loom so that they can weave faster as well as increase the width of their fabric. So far they have resisted these changes because of the symbolic representations of the craft of weaving and its associations with the sublime.