Carpet weaving is not just an art, but reflection of a country’s culture, tradition, and civilization. Carpets in Afghanistan are mainly knitted by hand by tribal people especially women; and this tradition goes on from generations. Carpet weaving is one of the most ancient crafts in Afghanistan. Most popular Afghan carpets are “Khal Mohammadi” and “Afghan Aqche” which are woven by Turkmens in central and north of Afghanistan. In addition there are other types of Afghan carpets including Belgique and Chob Rang. Carpets in Afghnaistan are made of wool, silk, and cotton and dyed with natural or chemical oil. Afghan carpets are expensive and less competent due to high prices, however, it is not always the money which makes things valuable, but beyond that there are huge ransoms.
Carpet weaving is the main source of earning in the northern, western, and central parts of Afghanistan. Most of the Afghan carpet weavers are Thurkmen, Uzbek, and Hazara ethnicities. Afghan carpets are usually of red color with combination of blue or white. The design mainly involves octagonal shapes like elephant foot; yet, after on-going war in Afghanistan carpets now encompass designs like weapons, bombs, aircrafts, Afghanistan’s map, etc. These types of carpets are demanded by Afghans who are living outside the country and by government officials for decoration purposes.
Carpets like other economic commodities have some specific properties. The market price which is set for each hand-made carpet reflects only the economic costs incurred during the production process, but doesn’t mirror all those embedded efforts, pain, and sacrifices which are invested in a carpet. A carpet is a work of art; along with economic value it possesses a deep social and cultural function, for instance, in Afghanistan a carpet is one of the primary items in the dowry list to be gifted to a bride when getting married. And to measure the living standards one can also consider the number and types of carpets consumed by the household.
Meanwhile many Afghan women are confronted with the cultural barriers to employment due to lack of education carpet weaving is one of the traditional income earning professions that provide thousands of jobs to the skillful female workers. Women play a notable role in the carpet industry in Afghanistan; they weave to preserve their ancient tradition and also to support themselves and their families. Since carpets are woven inside houses it is quite convenient for the female section of the society to work efficiently and effectively. For the woman who weaves inside her home it is possible to weave at night time and to do all house chores during the day. However, if there is more than one woman in the family and one is older than other; the older does the house chores like washing and cooking and the relatively younger usually weaves carpets.
As carpet weaving is labor intensive and time consuming skill, it takes months or even years to weave a hand-made carpet. It takes approximately seven to eight months to knit a nine-metre carpet by two weavers and a year to weave the same carpet by one person. The reason behind slow process of weaving is that each stage of production takes adequate time and devotion from turning materials into yarn to washing, dyeing, knitting, and finishing. A special attention is required to dying process because if the color is not concentrated enough it would fade away after some period of time. Usually carpets differ in size, type of knot, quality, and design so each carpet is handled accordingly. It also depends on the season; in winters when it is cold outside in the yard women prefer not to weave a lot and prioritize weaving in spring time.
Even though carpet weaving is essential for the women empowerment it badly affects the health of the women causing lung diseases, bad eye sight, and joint problems. In order to weave more and more and to not get tiresome female carpet weavers take opium. Opium apparently helps them to get over the pain and fatigue they get during carpet weaving. Afghan female weavers use opium not for luxury and trance, but as a relief from afflictions. This predicament has been aggravated by lack of awareness and dearth of health care facilities in the country.
It is evident that thousands of children in Afghanistan also use drugs not by their own choice but they have been fed opium since they were born. The mother of young child who is a multitasked woman has to perform many other important duties including carpet weaving, taking care of her house and other family members, and following the rituals which makes her entirely busy and too ignorant to her small baby who needs her the most. The only thing which helps her manage everything is “opium”, which is considered to be a sleeping pill for the baby and a pain killer for the mother. Young kids are fed with opium so that they do not infuriate their mothers and let them work efficiently.
Therefore, it is not only thread knitted in each knot, but also that dream which she could not afford as she has to stay up and weave her carpet, that pain which her muscles felt each time she started weaving, and that love of motherhood which she couldn’t give to her kid when it was needed the most.
Afghan carpets are expensive not only in money terms but are highly valuable because it is not the wool that an afghan woman weaves, but her unuttered tales and magical dreams.
Furthermore, Carpet production in Afghanistan plays an important role in the growth and development of the country, therefore, government of Afghanistan should not neglect this sector. The government ought to support and promote this sector and should make a long-term strategy for its progress. Culture and long term tradition of drug addiction among the carpet weavers in Afghanistan pushes the country backward causing higher child and female mortality rates and numerous illnesses. So, for the productive industry and fruitful future of Afghanistan the Afghan government need to provide better health facilities to the carpet weavers particularly to women and should encourage trainings to develop the techniques. The government had better to initiate industrial cluster in one of the north-western province of the country, it should establish healthy industrial parks for women weavers, and should promote national branding to attract more investment in the sector so that the workers could receive sufficient reward for their hard work.
Nadia Abdul Malik