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.
Trade and Commerce
The nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples of Baluchistan historically led largely self-sufficient lives and were able to supply most of their daily needs—including food, shelter and clothing—using the resources provided by their flocks of sheep, goats and camels, supplemented by small plots of farmland and groves of date palms. They typically obtained the things they could not produce themselves—such as salt, sugar, and tea; cotton and silk cloth; and various types of metal cooking utensils, tools and weapons—either by bartering or by purchasing those things with money earned from selling the surplus products of their flocks. In past centuries, many nomadic tribes in Baluchistan also engaged in raiding and stealing from other groups not related to them. However, such predatory behavior has been severely discouraged and harshly punished by national authorities in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan since at least the middle of the 20th century. The hardening of national borders after 1980 has disrupted the migration patterns of many traditionally nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples in Baluchistan, making it difficult for them to remain as self-sufficient as they were in the past. Today many families supplement their incomes by sending some of their men to work in regional cities as temporary laborers, while the women and children engage in weaving and other handicrafts intended for the commercial market.
Perhaps no weaving is more emblematic of the nomadic lifestyle than the saddle bag. Saddle bags are woven as one long strip that is folded in at the ends and sewn along the sides to create two pouches joined by a central bridge section. The bag may be entirely flat-woven or it may include pile-woven sections, typically on the outward facing panels of the two pouches. Saddle bags are designed to be slung across the back of a pack animal. They exist in a range of sizes, with smaller bags being used on donkeys, medium bags used on horses, and the largest bags used on camels. Saddle bags can also be used as storage containers or cushions when they are not being carried by an animal. Many sedentary people in Baluchistan also traditionally used saddle-bags for transporting goods to and from market. However, the use of saddle bags has declined sharply in recent decades among both nomads and non-nomads as motorized transport has become more common throughout Baluchistan.