Crafted in Karnali

Festival Issue 129 Aug, 2012
Text by Willeke Van Rijn / Photo: Willeke van Rijn

Fair trade NGOs are craft shops are helping preserve a carpet weaving culture in Jumla and as a result uplifting their lifestyles.

You can tell where you are in Nepal from the textiles you see and feel around you. The culture and traditions of Jumla are woven into the lius and peruas that are created in the remote villages of these Western Himalayas. Fashioned by hand, by whole families - young and old, men and women - these textiles represent the height of local craft.

In Jumla, one of the 5 districts in the Karnali region, farmers produce rugs made from sheep and goats wool. The liu – made from sheep wool – and the perua – made from goat’s wool – are woven using only natural colors. Every liu and perua is handcrafted; every piece is different and unique - from shearing sheep and cutting goat’s hair to spinning and twisting the thread and weaving the liu and perua on a back-strap loom. The back-strap loom is hard work – combining physically demanding work with attention to detail. The patterns used are part of Karnali’s heritage and history e.g. the gordate - horizontal stripe, kipe - striped pattern and paro agke - dotted pattern.

With volatile weather patterns and crop production and seasonal migration for work a feature of rural life here, this labor is one way that local families try to reduce their long standing food insecurity. The region’s weather vulnerability has had a big impact on the local food production. On the other hand, expenditure after buying food, is almost always focused on education and schooling for children.

The market in Jumla is limited, especially as most households have one or several varieties of the rugs in their homes. This puts pressure on the price which is often so low that it is a poor reward for the amount of work done. But now, a number of fair trade NGOs and handicraft shops in Kathmandu are pushing these beautiful home furnishings to the top of their agenda. “We wanted to include handcraft items from the Karnali region for a long time in our collection. The lius and peruas are our first items and we hope our customers are as pleased with them as we are”, says Sunil Chitrakar from Mahaguthi. Retail outlets like Mahaguthi, Sana Hastakala, Folk Nepal and the SAARC Chamber Crafts Village see the rugs as unique items for the Kathmandu market. “With only natural, undyed wool used, it fits with the organic and natural movement and the quality of the weaving is very high” says Jyoti Tuladhar from the SAARC Chamber Crafts Village.

For the producers in Jumla, this could mean a new market opportunity and a new source of income. Selling around four lius per year for example, will provide around half of their cash income (at this moment the average income in Jumla per household is a paltry NRs 23,000 per year). Working on a contract basis, knowing what to make and by when will create a more predictable pattern of earning and spending.

This ‘trade not aid’ opportunity is still being tested. With the quality and cultural significance of the product, it is hoped locals, tourists and expats alike will appreciate the efforts. ■