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.
Geometric designs are common in the nomadic and semi-nomadic weavings of Baluchistan. The grid-like structure of warps and wefts created by the weaving process naturally lends itself to linear shapes and motifs. Even so, the weaver must take great care to space the shapes correctly and to maintain their proper proportions. This involves keeping track of multiple warp and weft patterns and anticipating how those patterns will change as the weaving progresses. The weavers’ achievements are all the more remarkable when we consider that most of them are women with little or no formal education who work without cartoons or written plans. Some weavers use existing textiles as reference points for their designs, but most follow patterns that they learned from another female relative or friend and have committed to memory.
To survive in the deserts and mountains of Baluchistan, nomads and semi-nomads must be closely attuned to the natural environment. Weavers in the region have for centuries created textile designs inspired by features of the landscape they inhabit, including the mountains, rivers, plants, animals, and birds. Sometimes the original reference for the design is obvious. Other times the designs have become so highly stylized that their original meanings are no longer clear.
Some weavings from Baluchistan feature symbolic designs derived from traditional tribe or clan signs. Other weavings have pictorial designs featuring arrangements of people, animals and buildings inspired by both historical and contemporary life. The pictorial designs are a more recent phenomenon in Baluchistan, having developed mainly in the later 20th century as more and more people gave up the nomadic lifestyle and became sedentary town and city dwellers. With less need to make rugs and bags for themselves, these town and city weavers began tailoring their production to satisfy the tastes of customers in Europe and North America for whom the pictorial designs are more comprehensible.