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Woolen ‘shawl’ and hilly people’s livelihood


Bangladesh is a developing country where a large number of people live under the poverty line and most of them earn their livelihood working in various manufacturing companies. The garments sector is very broad here as a vast amount of people from different areas are connected to this sector somehow.

Figure 1: Kashmir shawls are highly prized for their fine wool, skilled weaving and embroidery, and soft texture. 

History of Bangladesh clothing industry 

The study of the history of clothing and textiles traces the development, use, and availability of clothing and textiles over human history. Clothing and textiles reflect the materials and technologies available in different civilizations at different times. The variety and distribution of clothing and textiles within a society reveal social customs and culture.

The wearing of clothing is exclusively a human characteristic and is a feature of most human societies, though it is not known exactly when various peoples began wearing clothes. Anthropologists believe that animal skins and vegetation were adapted into coverings as protection from cold, heat and rain, especially as humans migrated to new climates.

The textile industry of Bangladesh is more than 500 years old. It is one of the oldest and most successful industries with its rich history. Moreover, in recent years there has been a substantial development in yarn and fabric production.

There is a significant effect of globalization on international textile and apparel trade. Today, the developed countries are hugely dependent on the developing nations for textile and garment manufacturing. At present, Bangladesh ranks second in the world as the largest apparel producer with a $34 billion business.

There are three fundamental factors which have boosted the growth of textile in Bangladesh. The country has plenty of natural and human resources, opportunities, and beneficial government policies. In Bangladesh, a large number of labor workers can be found.

Also, the prices of natural gas and the cost of energy are cheap. With a huge population, labor is abundant, and Bangladesh has an advantage in producing labor-intensive products.

History of ‘shawl’ and ‘pashmina’

The words ‘shawl’ and ‘pashmina’ come from Kashmir, but originate from Hamedan, Iran. Sources report cashmere crafts were introduced by Sayeed Ali Hamadani, when the 14th century came to Ladakh, homeland of pashmina goats, where, for the first time in history, he found that the Ladakhi Kashmiri goats produced soft wool.

He took some of this goat wool and made socks which he gave as a gift to the king of Kashmir, Sultan Qutabdin.

Afterwards, Hamadani suggested to the king that they start a shawl weaving industry in Kashmir using this wool. That is how pashmina shawls began. The United Nations agency UNESCO reported in 2014 that Ali Hamadani was one of the principal historical figures who shaped the culture of Kashmir, both architecturally and through the flourishing of arts and crafts, and hence the economy, in Kashmir. The skills and knowledge that he brought to Kashmir gave rise to an entire industry.

Figure 2: The shawl weaving gave birth to an industry in Kashmir. Courtesy: Priyanka Parashar/Mint. Courtesy: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Kim didi- a struggling woman

Here is the story of ‘Kim didi’ who lives in Bogalake para, Ruma; Bandarban with her family. They are a small family of three members includes her husband ‘Pui Bom’, she and her little daughter Lily. They also have three dogs. In Bogalake most of the native people have cottage businesses for tourists, which is their main livelihood, but few families cannot afford this business.

They make ‘Shawl’ for their livelihood. They prepare ‘Shawl’ from wool (one kind of yarn). They buy these different colors of wool from Ruma Bazar, 15 km far from their place. Ruma Bazar is their local market. They use motorbike or jeep in the risky hilly roads.

The ‘Shawls’ look very simple in design because it is fully handmade. It takes a minimum of two days for a ‘Shawl’ to make and sells it only 400 takas each. They use a couple of bamboo sticks for making structures to sew the ‘Shawl’; for a different design, they change the bamboo arrangement. Normally they do not have electricity available and so they mostly work in daylight.

They want their children to be higher educated but it is quite impossible because schools are minimum 40-50 km away from their home and the hilly roads are very risky and deadly. As a result, their children are grown up without proper education.

Life in remote and rural areas such as Bogalake para is hard and struggling. Woolen ‘Shawls’ and few other items of clothing such as ‘Taat’ can be made without the use of heavier machinery, it allows these people to practice this labor some craft and earn a necessary livelihood out of it by selling these traditional clothing to the tourists that gather here every year.

Figure 3: The people of Bandarban earn their livelihood through weaving woolen ‘Shawls’ and few other items of clothing such as ‘Taat’.

1.6 million people are living in the hill tracts. The region covers 10% of Bangladesh’s land area but accounts for only 1% of the population.

About half of the population are from 13 small ethnic groups. These religious and ethnic minorities have been living in hill tracts for many generations. The other half, about 53%, are Bengalees. Most of the people live in scattered habitats known as ‘Para’.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) communities suffer from many deprivations due to challenges posed by its unique demography, socio-economic situations and diversities in culture and customs. There is also not enough infrastructure, human resources and integration of CHT context in development planning, which all limit effective coverage of basic services.

If the government takes care of these matters, people of CHT will get a bright future having proper basic needs and livelihood earnings.

If anyone has any feedback or input regarding the published news, please contact: info@textiletoday.com.bd

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