Weaving Together the Traditions of the Lowa Women in Nepal

For the Lowa community in the Upper Mustang of Nepal, apron weaving traditions are an important source of their cultural identity. Some women own so many aprons, they can wear a new apron each day of the year. In recent years, due to the widespread use of modern synthetic fabrics, many women no longer practice traditional weaving methods to create these aprons. Fewer young women are learning this tradition from their elders and as a result this ancient art form is at risk of being lost.

In 2012, Chhing Lhomi, Project Manager of the Himalayan Indigenous Society (HIS Nepal), received a Genographic Legacy Fund grant to preserve the community’s traditional apron weaving practices.  Recently she wrote to us with an exciting update from the community. Below she reflects on how the Genographic Legacy Fund grant facilitated weaving training sessions aimed at preserving her community’s ancient tradition. –Rachel Bruton, The Genographic Project

A Reflection From the Lowa Community

by Chhing Lhomi

The Lowa people inhabit the Upper Mustang region of northern Nepal at altitudes between 11,000 and 13,000 feet. Mustang is a windy, arid, high altitude desert. It is surrounded on three sides by Tibet. Until 1992, this area was closed to the outside world and it remains a restricted area. The Lowa people (also known as Lhoba, Lhowa, Lhopa) are one of the Ethnic-Tibetan Nationalities in Nepal and the practice of weaving aprons is an important component of our cultural identity.  According to Lowa custom, they are the privileged garments for women and a source of Lowa cultural identity. When a Lowa girl gets married, she may receive hundreds of aprons as a gift from her parents so that she can change her style every day of the year.

Today, sadly, synthetic materials are replacing the original woolen fabrics, which were dyed and woven in traditional ways.  In the traditional ways of animal husbandry, the wool was considered purer if the animals fed on uncontaminated, clean grass. The wool was colored in the traditional way by buckwheat straw. The straw was then cooked/boiled to bring out the natural color, which is then used to color the wool. Unfortunately, the younger generations do not learn our traditional weaving methods and in the future, these skills may disappear.

In May 2013, the Himalayan Indigenous Society Nepal received a grant from the Genographic Project to conduct Lowa apron weaving training sessions. The training sessions help to ensure that our traditional knowledge and skills will transfer to younger generations and help generate income for the women.  Ten women over a course of 20 days participated in the training. They were provided 10 wooden looms and some extra wool to practice weaving at home.

One of the major outcomes of the training sessions is that the women are sharing their knowledge with other members of the community. A few trainees have already made several aprons and have begun helping others in the village learn to weave. This skill has given Lowa women an enhanced sense of pride in their families and community.

Tshering Angmu Lowa, one of the youngest participants reflects on how the skill has contributed to her life: “I am so happy now, even though I am not highly educated. I am only one daughter in my family and my father is a shepherd. He is also illiterate as well my mother. I did not get chance to go school.  And I was so worried in my life.  Now I know how to make apron and already started to make in my home. I feel so happy doing that. My father and mother are also so happy to see me weaving.”

The community is grateful for the support of the Genographic Legacy Fund. We hope that the apron weaving tradition will live on for many generations.

 

Second Genographic Legacy Fund Deadline Announced

In an effort to ensure that other languages and cultures like the Loma’s stay woven into our planet’s identity, the Genographic team will host two grant deadlines in 2014. The first deadline will be April 15 and the second will be September 15. Applications received before each respective date will be considered.

Learn more about the Genographic Legacy Fund and think of how you can help protect our cultural heritage.

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Dr. Miguel Vilar is the Science Manager for National Geographic's Genographic Project. Miguel is also a molecular anthropologist and a science writer. His fieldwork has taken him to remote places throughout the South Pacific, East Africa, Mesoamerica, and the Caribbean. In the laboratory he researches the modern genetic diversity of human populations from Melanesia, Micronesia, North and Central America, and the Caribbean. Miguel has published in several anthropology and genetics journals, as well as popular science magazines.