Discovered through Translation – Endangered Textile Traditions: Dr Keireine Canavan

During the lecture this morning it was really interesting to learn of all of Keireine’s achievements and research and it reminded me of how lucky we are with our lecturers: these people who we see nearly every day have seen some amazing things and have so much knowledge to give.
Keireine spoke about the Iban people in Malaysia, who each have a blanket called a Pua Kumbu, which was made for them at birth and stays with them until death, when it is destroyed. When the person passes away, it is layed on top of the body while it is being burnt. This therefore means that these blankets are very rare and hard to come by. This struck me as a huge shame: that these beautiful pieces of art are being destroyed and at first I thought that it is a waste. After thinking about it however, I realised that the cultural tradition is more important and it actually strikingly beautiful that one piece of textile is so personal to that one individual, that it should perish with their body. It is a strange difference to our society, which has such a ‘recycle, reuse’ mantra, that we would be shocked to hear that, for example a person’s blanket which they have had since they were a baby, was destroyed once they had passed. We would either want to keep it for sentimental value, or to give it away. This made me realise that this is probably why we have no equivalent rarity in our culture.

This blanket will always have a border, which they believe to keep the good spirits in and the bad ones out, and a resist dye is used to achieve a pattern made up of very spiritual imagery.
Looking online after the lecture, I noticed that almost all of the blankets pictured were red/orange but was unable to find out whether this was for practical reasons (availability of natural dyes?) or for some sort of cultural meaning. The method that Keireine described sounded extremely difficult, but in my opinion completely worth it, because the results are absolutely beautiful.

 images Pua Kumbu

Keireine also spoke about Tradiional Salvi Patola silk weaving in India. We learnt that the Salvi weavers were traditionally only weavers for royalty and therefore used only silk and certain colours. It takes 75 days to prepare the silk (which is the job of the women) and then it takes two people over 5 months to weave. These are the only two remaining weavers in Patola, India and this made me again this about this in comparison to our own culture: techniques and methods are so readily passed down and people are constantly being trained in new skills, it is charming to see that they value the skills so much, that they would rather it die out that just teach anyone.
These designs seem much simpler than those on the Pua Kumbu, with bigger, bolder shapes.

NGS Picture ID:424379 patan-patola-heritage

Al Sadu woven textiles are a Bedouin tradition in the Arabian Peninsula and is used to create textiles for utalitarian purposes e.g. tents, floor coverings, camel bags, screens/dividers, cushions. There are 8 remaining weavers and nothing is recorded: the method is passed down through person to person.
This tribe’s banking system is through jewellery and they wear is as a way of showing their wealth. At times of wealth they will buy more and at poorer times, they will sell what they have.

They use dyes from things that grow around them such as flowers fungi spices, although occasionally chemical dyes are used.
Figurative symbols are used and inspiration is taken from their surroundings, for example a platter of food, a snake’s path in the sand, a water pool. In their culture, water is precious and valuable due to the rare, short rain falls. Once it is there, the water will quickly disappear into the ground.
Tassels are used as decoration of these textiles and they help to decipher which tribe it belongs to, as each ties them differently. They are put on the outside of the textile to protect it: the tassels can be discarded and replaced and the weave is unharmed.

I am very interested in symbolism and beliefs of different tribes and cultures and how one thing that is so normal and everyday for us (for example water) can be so precious to another.

IMG_0733  earring-or-jewellery-motif1 _50709006_figurative-forms_canavan



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