Traditional dresses: A window into the cultures of Chitral & Baltistan  

Clothing plays a very important role in human life. It is because through its meaning that we validate our sense of self and our place in the society where we live in. Then, clothing becomes a sign of our personal values and philosophies along with the culture of which we are the part.  [caption id="attachment_10986" align="alignleft" width="300"]chugha File photo by GH Farooqui[/caption] Clothing has the power to represent cultures. In other words, clothing has multiple meanings and reflects our culture. This paper mainly highlights my reflection on what is the need of dress or clothing and how it goes through modification process and becomes the part of a specific culture. This paper was basically a part of one of my courses “Introduction to Histories and Cultures of Muslim Societies” at Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development, Karachi. The title of the task was “Indigenous Dresses of Baltistan and Chitral. When the history of the evolution of dresses is searched, it is found that clothing was introduced as a method to protect human body from harsh weather, instance heat, cold and precipitation. Later on, people started wearing clothing for functional as well as social reasons depending upon social values and climatic conditions (Mark, 2012). People use dresses to shape and define their identities because it is believed that dresses represent individuality as well as personality. The dress is an important tool to represent specific gender, occupations and even affiliations. Hence, it can be said that dresses are a measure of our very existence and way of life. viewerIf we take the meaning of dresses in a broader sense, it can be realized that dresses are some of the symbols which reflect political climate, economic conditions, and more specifically the culture of a region. For example, when the very specific dresses of Baltistan and Chitral regions were examined, it was found that the dresses, which people wear during different occasions, transmit different ideas and these dresses relate with the changing patterns of the regions in terms of politics, economy and system of meaning along with cultural beliefs. Here I want to share an example from personal experiences about how people relate different meaning to dresses. When a person was asked about the dresses and the importance of these dresses in his life, he was of the view that the dresses which are “Islamic” are the best, suitable and appropriate. When he was further asked to give a specific example of “Islamic dress” he mentioned “Shalwar-Kameez” as an ideal “Islamic dress”. Such beliefs might be due to the lack of awareness about what the dresses are and what its functions are. When we reflect on such belief systems, it can be realized that such meanings which are attached with a specific dress might be problematic as these beliefs might create hatter to other cultures. And most importantly, such meanings associated with the dresses might also marginalize any specific cultural or ethnic group which might not have the same practice in terms of dresses as majority of the people of such a region has. In addition, an important dimension of the dresses is its modification and adaptation processes. This new dimension of dresses can be seen in the context of Baltistan and Chitral. With the passage of time, industrialization improved the economic conditions of different regions especially urban areas of Pakistan. As the economy has the power to shape the social life, therefore, with the passage of time, this effect of economy also transferred to our regions resulting in modification and changing the old cultural dresses. Nowadays, our cultural has adopted different kinds of dresses from other cultures and these different dresses have become the part of our culture. I think these dresses of other cultures have gone through a reformulation process in such a way that they fit in with the local practices and system of meaning and this reformulation process is very impressive. This reformulation can be seen in the given picture (figure) where new generation is experiencing the taste of this reformulation and modification. This modification or adoption of cultural commodities from different cultures is a voluntary process and it cannot be carried out by force. As it has already been discussed that industrialization has revolutionized the whole world and it has also affected the culture of different regions so in these evolutionary cultures, only those things survive which can work. Hence, new varieties and designs are being used by people as these designs are comfortable, easy to wear and durable. Furthermore, It is also important to note how the meaning of these cultural commodities is socially constructed and how this meaning changes from context to context (like within different parts of Baltistan and Chitral region) with the advancement and modernization. In short, if the indigenous dresses of different cultures are seen in broaden vision one can realize the diversity in these dresses and this diversity, in consequence, will be strength rather an issue of the cultures. And hence, such a lens can help people to promote love and respect up for diversity of cultures. Our school, in this respect, can promote the concept of “love and respect for diversity of cultures” by arranging different activities during local festivals and other occasions. It is because I believe that if we encourage our students to respect and love for diversity of cultures, they will not only act upon it but they will surely spread this massage of love and respect. In this way, we can hope for a colorful and peaceful future. (June 2, 2013). zaheer   Zaheer Abbas is a student of Masters of Science Teacher Education at the Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development, Karachi  ]]>

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