Zaib R. Mir
The traditional dress of Gilgit Baltistan is unique and has its links to a rich history spanning many centuries. The traditional cloths are closely connected to the way of life, limited available local resources, climatic conditions and local cultural values. Over centuries Silk, cotton, woolen and leather material have been traditionally used to make traditional dresses.
Because of cold climatic conditions woolen clothing are important part of the traditional winter clothing.. Shuqa is the most distinct winter clothing of the region. Shuqa has remained unchanged and perfectly functional for centuries. Historically it has its roots in mountainous region of Tajikistan, Pamir, Badakhshan and Iran.
Shuqa is made from local woolen fabric called patti. This fabric is prepared by hours of hard work by local people. Sheep’s are raised by the local farmers. Wool is obtained by shearing the sheep. The next stage is to card the wool and spin the thread. Weaving the fabric in the local vertical loom is a long hard work. Sewing the garment into desired design of shuqa , coats,jackets and traditional caps is only the last stage. In the past local women were preparing the garment by hand stitch. Hand stitching was finer than today’s machine stitch. The clothing which sewn by hand use to last for years. Unlike the modern age people of the area who have multiple sets of cloths for day to day use , the people in the past probably had a single or a couple of shuqas which they expected to last for years. That is the reason for shuqa to be so durable. In addition the design of the traditional cloths are very efficient. Because of the cost of the fabric only very little or no cloth was wasted while cutting and sewing.
Shuqa is designed to fulfill the multipurpose tasks. It is full length and usually worn on other dress. It covers the body from shoulder to ankles protecting against harsh cold weather. The longs sleeves of Shuqa are very useful. They are designed in a way that they can be used muffler, scarf or mittens. Sometimes the farmers use Shuqa sleeve to carry wheat, fruit or other stuff. Shuqa was a very useful clothing for long travels. In the past horses were used for long travel through the mountainous valleys. Shuqa was designed in a way it was easy for horse riding. One can easily ride on a horse back wearing this warm garment. It coves the whole body of the rider and still remains comfortable. Shuqa could also be used as an emergency blankets by travelers, hunters and shepherds.
Shuqa are of different colors. White shuqa is popular for ceremonial use or formal dressing. For work and daily use brown or gray Shuqa is used more.
Embroidery on shuqa is eye catching. Normally Qalami embroidery is used on chest, back and corners. Beautiful designs of embroidery are used on
shuqa specially prepared for groom. Presenting cloths to a guest is sign of hospitality and honour in GilGit Baltistan. People present cloths to their relatives and guests in the time of weddings. Presenting shuqa to honorable national or international guests is a local custom.
In summary shuqa is efficiently designed according to the social , cultural and climatic need of the area. Much can be learned from these historical designs of dresses.
Zaib R Mir is a needle and thread artist and artisan from Ghizer Valley Gilgit Baltistan. She works to promote and preserve cultural heritage of gilgit Baltistan.