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Textile Ethnography – Markers of Migration

November 21, 2014 4 min read

The inevitable outcome of passion –  if one can afford it –  is heavy expenditure.

I mean expenditure of the most scarce resource i.e. “time”.

In my case, much of that expenditure seems to be aimless and may simply be undirected browsing or absorbing of scraps of data without any specific goal. The innate liking for the subject holds the interest as the mind wanders through the limitless infinity of information. If one were to engage in formal study of the subject the route is charted and structured and one knows exactly what one will learn and what one will not learn. But in the case of interest-driven-learning the path changes every day – with a new stimulus drawing me deep into an area that, until that point I had no idea even existed!

And so the journey remains fun.

And in my case also completely unproductive.

I am simply consuming. Drinking in the images and the information. A student forever. The mind is calm, smiling every now and then, and in a state of restful awareness and enjoyment. Somewhat like spending a day at the Mandovi riverside sitting on the benches at Kala Academy. Observing, sipping tea, just sitting at peace, watching, counting the clouds and the mining barges float by – no agenda, no hurry, just aimless watching.

Until ONE DAY.

Suddenly I begin to ‘see’ patterns. Or rather, until the one day when the patterns “reveal” themselves to me. Suddenly hidden within the data points that were just a whole lot of randomly scattered dots, I can see a pattern. Like the game I made my children play – join the dots….

And then the mind begins to stir, and process every bit of data gathered to sift and find more evidence in support of the pattern or against. There is a sudden urgency and a hurry. The restful state has changed into a hungry churning state. I am no longer sitting on the bench watching a calm Mandovi river – instead it is like being at Calangute beach facing the stormy monsoon sea – with waves that have so much unbridled energy that they can consume the being. That sea has an energy that sucks me in, I want to become one with the ocean and drown in that energy. No restful watching – there is no patience for that anymore!

And then the productivity of the mind occurs.

A few days ago, when I looked at two identical textile that were from completely different regions but were identical in their craftwork,  I realised that these are quite possibly markers of ethnic migrations. Textiles that might offer firm support for either forming the null hypothesis or for testing it –  support that might be sufficient to warrant the deep ancestry research offered by google (and others) on a scale that would be statistically significant.

The connection that I see is not through simple motifs – such as a cross or a straight line – those could have been discovered independently in a hundred different locations without copying form each other or comparing notes. This is not about motifs. Because motifs are easy to copy.

This is about the craft. It is about extremely complicated skills that would take a whole lot of training to master. Heaven knows how hard and how long our school teachers worked to teach us clueless middle school girls a few simple chain stitches and hemming and such! This type of craft would not have been possible in a hole group of textiles unless there was some serious time spent on imparting that skill.

This is about pieces that are a hundred years old.  In those days only the best schools were available – the school of the grandma!

And finally this is about completely disconnected geographies.

The case is one of an antique textile created with a craft that is so unique (and complex) that it is associated with one and only one ethnic group that is small in numbers and concentrated in a region.

Or so I thought – until I found another textile group that is attributed to an ethnic group far far away – but is identical to the first group!

How did that come to be?

Would two groups independently arrive at this craft? The complexity of the craft makes that unlikely.

And so it will be useful to investigate the journeys of their ancestors!

Who knows – maybe the ethnographic experts may already know about these migrations as a fact and my exciting revelation is just a moment of personal discovery rather than something of major significance for the libraries of the world!

To me, the real reward  lies in the personal journey of discovery. An exciting  exploration awaits!

More on this subject when I have some ‘thos saboot’ or ‘firm evidence’


Nov 2014

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