|Fieldnotes. Observation. Reflections|
Here we share observations and fieldnotes from our fieldtrips. Some of these notes are shared by our Research Assistants based in each of the partner country. 

Field notes_Afghanistan | Abida Kakar and Zainab Yosufzai | 2021

Afghanistan, a region that is diversified due to the continuous wars over the centuries. A region that has been rich in arts, crafts, culture and traditions. The region where you can find the arts, crafts, culture and tradition of Baloch from the south-eastern part of the region, Pashtuns from the central, southern and eastern part of the region, Tajiks from the central and western part of the region and other tribes such as Turkmens, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Turks and many other tribes. Afghanistan was and is a central hub of trade routes between the Middle east, central Asia, eastern Asia and south Asia. The country where multiple languages are spoken and has a huge tolerance for all the cultures. The majority of Afghan people lives with similar day-to-day routines, they follow the same Islamic traditions yet have tolerance for people having different religious beliefs, they wear similar clothing’s yet are impressed by new styles, they eat similar food yet enjoy whatever they have been offered, they also celebrate the same holidays, traditions and other cultural events.

In the early 10th century the region was a vital location for the trade, A trade route called “Silk Road'' which lengthened from China to Europe was a main trade route at time for transporting goods (Silk in particular), during this time in the southern parts of the country there were already a rise in population as most of the Pashtun tribes were residing their and most of the time they used to use the same route (Silk road) for their trade and other times they would use alternatives routes through Kandahar and Peshawar into India when trading with south Asian countries. Most of the overseas traders that were Nomads coming through silk road and the alternative routes to the region decided to stay in the region as they were looking for fertile lands and fresh, clean water which the country is offering for centuries, these nomadic groups have learnt the culture and tradition form the people in the region and they have also influenced the local residents with their own culture and traditions. During several raids to Iran and India by Afghan Kings has also brought diversity to the region.

Transformation and Empowerment Stream GCRF Gender Justice and Security Hub has provided us the opportunity through the “Culture, Conflict and Women” to explore more about Afghanistan, the culture of the people residing in Afghanistan and the history of arts and crafts in particular. We worked in two main locations in Afghanistan Kabul the current capital city of the country and Kandahar the former capital city of the country, both of these cities are not only the main cities but also rich in culture and diversity. The people of Afghanistan have long been waiting for peace and stability so that they can return and continue with their hobbies of development through following their culture.

Afghanistan may be a single country but its diversity is beyond crosswords, even the atmosphere, climate and weather of the region has various colours. The north part of the region where you feel icy-cold during winter time but cloudless during summer. In contrast the south part of the region where you would feel nice and calm during the winter but burning hot during the summer time. The weather conditions in both parts of the region are ideal for the inhabitants to live and for the cultivation for different types of crop. previously the main activity men in both parts of the region could do were harvesting and trading the crops that they had raised, together with farming and trading they used to get training for the battle against foreign invaders which they used to call a “Holy War'' by the order of their Kings at the time, this seemed to be their culture at that time, but for women the trading was not a norm, they had a different approach for living, they use to educate their children the Islamic ways of living, they were also used to sew carpets, shelters, tents and other garments, they were very skilled in embroidery. They also took care of the animals by feeding them, walking them to the mountains and receiving food from the through milking them and by slaughtering them.

All ethnicities living in the country share most of the values which were the very authentic Afghan culture and traditions and norms such as celebrating “Nowroz” (new year in Zodiac calendar), they celebrate this event by preparing “Haft Mewa” (seven fruits) which is a type of foods made of seven types of dry fruits and sharing it between friends and families. They also celebrate and enjoy Eids, Music, Hospitality, Weddings and other occasions similarly. At the same time each ethnic group has their own cultural aspects as well, they have their own norms, traditions which can be different from other ethnic groups.

Kabul is the Capital of and the largest urban centre in the country and also its political and economic hub. Kabul is the core city and remains on the north bank of the Kabul River. Kabul has historically been the centre of culture, arts and crafts of all ethnic groups who are residing in the country. Kabul is known for its gardens, bazaars and beautiful palaces, an example being the famous Darul Amaan palace built as an office for King Amanullah Khan, Baghe Babur ( Babur Garden) built by Mughal emperor who named Kabul as a capital city of his empire.

Kandahar is the city that is located in the south of Afghanistan, on the side of Arghandab River. Kandahar is the second-largest city in the country. The town is the centre of a gorgeous cultural region of Loy Kandahar. In the past, this city was the capital of many various kingdoms and dynasties, due to these dynasties and the raiders of the Afghan kings in India and Iran brought people from those lands to Afghanistan and hence this maneuver diversified the culture and tradition in the country and also making the way open for trade. The main products that were used in trading were animals such as sheep, goats and cows, materialistic products such as wool, cotton, silk, felt, food grains, fresh and dry fruits, and tobacco and other drugs. Kandahar is also known for having one of the rich cultures, arts and crafts. The Kandhari embroidery (Khamak) is one of the famous embroideries of Afghanistan, the region and even in the world which has its own beauty, complexity. As they are done by hand they require a lot of time, effort, attention and determination in order to manage and produce one piece of the cloth with embroidery work on it. This norm still continues in parts of the regions and always surprises its fans with new designs and works.

The Beauty of Afghani Arts and Crafts
As most of the men in the region are still busy with improving the circumstances in the country, many women and girls have pursued a new hobby that would make them busy and can help the family financially. Using splendid techniques, embroidering is traditionally done by Afghan women and girls. They decorate the fabrics with gold, silver and other colour threads made of wool or silk. They embroider everyday items from producing curtains to tapestries and from bedspreads to dresses, hats and other clothing and fabric products. During the night, free from the house chores of the day, women have the opportunity to embroider in an intimate family atmosphere. The embroidering skills of women are widely admired, they are most openly appreciated when guests visit for wedding and holidays.

Through embroidery, women weave the heart of the family into a physical form and enriches family history.

Afghanistan is also famous because of its unique rug and carpet designs and has been known/noticeable for the rugs and carpets industry from centuries. A traditional Afghan rug has various designs being printed that are inspired by the culture and likes of a particular area, making the rug unique to that part of Afghanistan. It requires expertise and requires a lot of time, effort, attention and determination in order to produce a fine piece of rug and carpet. The designs, prints, colours, shapes and sizes of Afghan rugs are being adjusted as per the market requirement. Afghan rugs are seen as one of the best in the world.

The traditions and culture would continue for ages but new technology would have a direct affect on the work produced by the skilled worker which lowers the value of the product as the product produced by machine is not as good as it is produced by hands. Today, since we are in a peace regaining process and refugees and evacuees are gradually returning to their homeland, time is witnessing a slow revival of embroidery as an art form as the demand for local handicrafts are rising at a continued pace over the last few years. 

Field notes_Pakistan | Adnan Ali | 2020

It was great experience engaging with the people from Raman, fargraham, harchin, broke, vayar in the region of Laspur located in Upper Chitral District. We have visited more than 15 to 20 houses. During these interactions I learnt how people employ different craft techniques, use materials that are locally sourced as well as the challenges they face in making craft in their everyday life. The most interesting parts for me were how crafts had stories attached to them, and the different ways in which locals survive the harsh winters.

One of the best craft techniques commonly used in this region is traditional weaving fabric (in khowar shuu) which is rapidly diminishing from the valley. During our research, we also came to know the procedure to make purely organic fabric with natural dyes. Women make their own yarn with wooden spinning tool. It is a unique pure organic craft in this era that I never experienced. This craft of making yarn and shu is definitely endangered as there are new loom machines and people have less time to dedicate to hand-made products. Hence, in Laspur, we saw that it is only the older generation who learnt to make this craft continue making it, the younger people are not interested. There are two kinds of fibers, as detailed below,

Sheep wool: soft and easily compactable.

Yak fibers: yak fiber divided into sub categories (nature and strength).

1) Inner fiber: soft and easily compactable used to make shoqa, weskit, coats and traditional cap.

2) Long fibers: thick and strong in nature used to make traditional ropes.

People of this region used technique involve a special type of journey from wool to fabric.

Process: starts with cutting the sheep wool and yak hair, which is then collected, washed and cleaned and then spun to make yarn which is then dyed naturally and either used to make shu or carpets.

Field notes_Pakistan | Aala Fatima | 2020

Lost and Found in Translation

A week spent in the beautiful region of Laspur reminded me of all the fairytales I read as a child. The picturesque land, is the best vacation spot and for us it proved to be a treasured research project. Laspur is partially disconnected to the outer world as there are no internet signals and only one working network. Fortunately this region is safe from pollution so the change in seasons are visible. People follow a rural lifestyle where Agriculture and livestock farming is the major source of living. Most women breed sheeps, cows and yaks. Which are also the raw materials for the crafts they make at home in their leisure time. During the harsh time of winters, the women who are bound to stay at home, weave carpets and work on embroidered patch work.
When all the women from different villages of Laspur were invited to the vocational training held in Harchin we were faced with a big problem. A problem we all face at least once in a lifetime, language barrier. The people of Laspur speak in their regional language, Khowar. A dialect which most of them don't even write in. So everytime we had to talk to the women we needed a local person who could translate Urdu to Khowar. On occasions when we did not have a local person around, sign language and pointing to certain objects was the only way to communicate.The local women found it hilarious when they could not understand simple sentences, such as “How are you?” Even some of the women who could understand Urdu prefer not to talk in it until it's necessary. So at various occasions when we engaged with them without an interpreter, all we could do was to emphasize on one specific word that the locals could understand.
On the last day of our week, the textile researchers wanted to complete the craft product that he had started with the local women as a form of engagement. Especially the woven table runner, there were alot of times when all the team members heard the echo of one word 'Kanghi' (comb)! Gladly the table runner proved to be a success and the crafts women as well as the designer were ecstatic about the output. The colours were perfect, so were the sizes and patterns, the week long engagement on these craft products proved to be success

Field notes_Sri Lanka | Thamali Wajekoon | 2020

Batticaloa is one of the major cities located in the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. The region carries a warm weather throughout the year. Field work in this area was carried on the 15th and 16th of February 2020.
The area was one affected by the three decade long war that prevailed in the country. The women of the region engage in all the common textile based craft practices such as weaving, crochet, cross stitch, fabric painting etc. Weaving is a popular craft practice here. Learning and employment opportunities relating to crafts are on the rise.

Field notes_Sri Lanka | Thamali Wajekoon | 2020

Mannar district is located in the north west of Sri Lanka and was one which was severely affected by war. Field work in this area was carried on the 21st, 22nd and 23rd of February 2020. The main town is located on the Mannar Island. The area is a flat coastal region with a warm climate throughout the year. The civilians here had been completely displaced during the times of war. The craft practices of the women we worked with had thus been disturbed at one point by war as well. Craft practices based on dried plant leaves are popular here, in addition to other craft practices such as weaving, crochet etc. Palmyrah leaf based basket weaving and mat weaving based on Pang leaf were covered in our focus group. While displaced, access to these raw materials had been lost, thus disrupting the craft making process. Most of the craft practices are home based. The women carried on their craft processes enthusiastically. There is hardly any inflow of new knowledge or technological know-how to the region as of yet, but the situation has immense potential to grow.


Kandy Focus Group Summary 

Kandy is situated in the central hills of Sri Lanka and is the center of a rich culture. The area is very much inclined towards culture and religion and has many unique arts and crafts as well as designs.

The crafts hand embroidery, batik, Dumbara rata and Beeralu were covered under the Kandy focus group which consisted of 5 members. Out of these, Dumbara rata is unique to Sri Lanka. Beeralu; although been introduced by the Portuguese to the country, is entwined so much with local people and their skills (specifically down south of the island), that it is considered as a unique, renowned traditional craft in the country.

Dumbara rata is a craft that is done using a loom like machine and thread. The designs (rata) incorporated in Dumbara are highly traditional and origin from religion related backgrounds. Beeralu is done by weaving or braiding thread using a pillow and bobbins. Although there is a plenty of traditional designs in Beeralu, novel designs are also making way into the craft. Batik craft in Kandy seems to be incorporating traditional designs, but is equally receptive of novel textile materials, designs and techniques. The focus group member for hand embroidery was also an extreme admirer of traditional Kandyan designs; hence incorporated them into her work always. One common characteristic of the Kandy focus group members was that they highly valued culture and tradition and the influence of them on arts and crafts.

The women nevertheless experience hardships when it comes to market opportunities, pricing their products and so on. All the craft practices covered under the group were extremely time consuming ones which justifies setting a high price for them. But this risks in a loss of customers since the products will then be highly expensive. Majority of the focus group members worked at their home-based workstations and were self employed.

The focus group members were very knowledgeable in their respective crafts and some of them had a family history of being involved in the same crafts too. The focus group was overall a very resourceful one. 


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