Textile Art and Culture in BaluchistanMay 14 2021
The term Baluchistan refers to a territory that straddles the modern borders of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. For centuries, this region has been home to a vibrant mix of different peoples and ethnic groups, including Baluch (Baluchistan literally means “land of the Baluch”), Pashtun, Aimaq and Hazara, among others. Many of the people in Baluchistan have historically led nomadic or semi-nomadic lives, periodically moving flocks of sheep and goats across the land in search of fresh pastures. Over the past century, however, this nomadic way of life has become increasingly difficult to maintain, as changing political and economic conditions have limited the free movement of people within countries and across international borders. Nomads still exist in Baluchistan, but their numbers are dwindling and their culture is changing so rapidly that this ancient way of life may vanish from the region by the end of the 21st century.
The need to move regularly with their flocks compelled the nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples of Baluchistan to develop a highly self-sufficient, highly economical way of life. Most of the nomads live year round in tents made of woven goat-hair fabric that allows air to circulate within the structure when the weather is hot and dry, but that swells up to become waterproof in rainy or snowy conditions. The semi-nomadic people of the region live part of the year in tents and part of the year in simple village houses built of wood, mud brick and stone. The tents and houses of both nomads and semi-nomads are furnished primarily with rugs and pillows woven from the wool of their own sheep and many daily activities are conducted at ground level. To make migrating easier, most nomads do not use much wooden furniture and their relatively few possessions are stored in woven wool bags of different shapes and sizes. Clothing is typically made of wool, cotton or other materials that the people purchase using money obtained by selling surplus wool, leather and milk from their flocks. The centrality of textiles in the lives of the nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples of Baluchistan makes these textiles an excellent lens through which to view and understand their culture. The textiles in this exhibition are grouped by form, function and design to shed light on both traditional and modern aspects of nomadic and semi-nomadic life in that region.
Most of the Baluchistan textiles in the Kruizenga Museum collection were donated by Verne Trinoskey and Paula Armintrout Trinoskey of Eureka, California. The museum is very grateful for their generosity.
Rugs are among the most basic domestic furnishings used by the nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples of Baluchistan. Rugs exist in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and provide clean, comfortable surfaces for sitting, working, eating, praying and sleeping. Most rugs from Baluchistan are rectangular and fairly small. Their modest size is partly a function of the simple looms on which they are woven, but also reflects their owners’ need to transport the rugs easily when they move with their flocks. Two basic types of rugs are woven in Baluchistan: flat and pile. Flat rugs consist of an interlocking matrix of vertical (warp) and horizontal (weft) yarns that are dyed different colors and woven together in different patterns to create decorative designs. Pile rugs are made by tying short lengths of colored yarn around the vertical yarns and locking them in place with the horizontal yarns so that both ends of the colored yarn protrude above the surface of the matrix. This technique creates a raised pile surface that makes the rugs more durable and more comfortable, and generates additional possibilities for creating complex decorative designs.
Because wooden furniture is too cumbersome to move when migrating, the nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples of Baluchistan typically use woven bags to store and transport most of their household possessions. These bags exist in different shapes and sizes. Some are designed to be slung over the backs of pack animals; others are meant to be carried by people. Some are made to be hung on the wall of a house or tent; others are meant to be placed on the ground. Many bags do double duty, functioning as both storage containers and cushions. When they are used as cushions, the bags are typically stuffed with raw wool, unused clothing, straw or other soft materials and are placed on the ground to provide a comfortable support for sitting or reclining. Bags, rugs and other textiles that are not being used at a given moment are often stacked at one end of a tent or house to form a purr. In addition to being a storage area for textiles, the purr demonstrates a household’s status and wealth and provides a sheltered area for private activities such as changing clothes and bathing.