A Disappearing Craft - Ply-Split Braiding of the Rabari of Kachchh

A Disappearing Craft - Ply-Split Braiding of the Rabari of Kachchh

First published to coincide with ‘Expanding the Girths’, an exhibition of traditional and contemporary ply-split braiding; part of Spliterati-01 – the first Ply-split convention held in the UK in 2001

Defined by caste occupation, the Rabari are camel-breeders who inhabit the desert area of Kachchh district in Gujarat, in the west of northern India. In actual fact, they are nomadic herders of sheep and goats, or cattle and water buffaloes, depending on their particular regional situation. The Rabari are among the few communities who still practice the craft of ply-split braiding which, in its traditional form, is now in decline. Young Rabaris are no longer learning it and the few remaining practitioners are all old men who learned to ply goat hair and camel hair as children from their fathers, grandfathers and uncles while migrating with the dhang (migratory group).

Traditionally, Rabari men – it is a male preserve – would make a variety of camel trappings and bags. Girths known as tang, halters, and elaborate neck decorations adorned with tassels, buttons and cowry shells, known as gorbandh, were made to beautify and protect Rabaris’ most valuable assets – their camels. They also made bags known as khurji that were used to hold canisters of ghee and milk, and other essential items for the migration. The craft of ply-split braiding was integrated into a life that expressed an existential harmony between god and man and animal.

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