"We are warp and weft" - nomadic pastoralism and the tradition of weaving in Rupshu (Eastern Ladakh)
This thesis, based on twelve months of fieldwork and archival research undertaken in Ladakh, explores the place of wool and weaving in the life of Rupshu. It attempts to trace the nexus between livestock, fibres, textiles, social and symbolic structures in Rupshu in order to understand the multitude of contexts within which wool-oriented activities exist. The craft of weaving was bestowed upon Rupshu by the gods, and thus all acts related to it have a close connection to the sublime. Rupshu lies in the easternmost part of Ladakh in North India, in a Restricted Areas Zone, as is accessible only to Indian citizens. Hence, extensive fieldwork has not been carried out in this area. Further, though there is a little documentation on the craft of weaving in Ladakh, none exists on the nomadic tradition of weaving. The first two chapters introduce the region of Rupshu and explore the historical context. They include a discussion of the origin and development of weaving and textiles in the area, and of the old trade routes in fibres. The next two chapters examine the connections between livestock, the source of fibres in Rupshu, and the Ladakh pantheon. The relationship between the two is reflected in the manner in which livestock are revered and treated in Rupshu. Further, this affinity is widely expressed in Rupshu, and one such occasion is the harvesting of the fibres. The next four chapters look specifically at the craft of weaving, and local representations of the tradition. Using examples of particular pieces woven in Rupshu, I examine the gender, spatial, and hierarchical relations that they express and perpetuate. Not all the fibres harvested in Rupshu are used there, and the final chapter examines their distribution through trade. While woven articles are not traded, specific containers are woven for the transport of fibres and their characteristics are looked at here. The concluding remarks include a discussion of the future of wool and weaving activities in Rupshu, and address the dangers posed by re-settlement schemes, and a shortage of pasture and over-grazing. These trends would eventually lead to a decrease in the number of livestock, and cause the people of Rupshu to abandon their tradition of nomadic pastoralism.