KUNBI: The Goan Fabric of Life

SARIS are such an integral part of the Indian consciousness, often fulfilling a plethora of needs other than those of mere clothing. Often, identity, history, heritage also become part of the garment. And every region of India has its own representative sari – Gujarat has the Bandhani, Orissa the Sambalpuri, Tamil Nadu the Kanjeevaram, Kerala – the Pattu and so on. The diversity of dress in India is fascinating. It is really lamentable that despite having its own fabric – the Adivasi Kappodds also called the Kunbi (saris worn by the Christian Adivasi communities), Goa has made no effort to proudly reclaim this part of its lost heritage. Until now, that is. Two dedicated art and cultural historians, Vinayak Khedekar and Dr. Rohit Phalgaonkar are determined to give the Kunbi it’s due and get the Government to declare it the signature textile of Goa. Playing detective, the two embarked on a journey to trace the historical roots of the fabric with help from Advocate John Fernandes, the Secretary of the Adivasi Sangatana in Quepem. Upon discovering that the tribal Adivasis were reluctant to perform their traditional dances due to lack of their traditional attire, the duo then started working on how to source these saris. And were shocked to discover that there is no weaver and no handloom in Goa producing these saris.

The cultural researchers then turned their attention to listing and documenting the tribal pockets of Goa as well as sourcing samples of the original fabric. A tentative approach with a replicated sample and one of Dr. Rohit’s friends, a cloth merchant in Hubli, resulted in a batch of 120 saris. Not sure what to do with so many, Dr. Rohit put them up on social networks. A fortuitous decision as it resulted in the historians tying up with the Pink Brigade, a social organisation that donates the proceeds from sales of the Kunbi saris to the Adivasi community. The saris are now woven in Karnataka and sold through the Pink Brigade with all the proceeds going to the Adivasis. This selfsustaining model has been set in motion and at least there is some attempt towards the revival of this simple beautiful fabric. Dr. Rohit explains that they have worked with seven or eight patterns to date although there remains a lot of scope for studying it further. While some of the Adivasis are Christian and some Hindu, their clothing cannot be generalised.

The Adivasi community is spread throughout Goa and they are known by different names- the Kunbi, Kulmi or Gawda. The saris are in varying shades of red as that is the colour used by Adivasis throughout India and checks are the signature pattern. So far, the saris of the Christian Gawda family have been replicated. At a recent event, the dedicated duo of historians felicitated the oldest weaver of the Kunbi sari, Narsinv Shankar Kamat and its first retailer Govind Panondicar. Their aim, says Dr. Rohit and Vinayak Khedekar is to preserve the textile heritage of Goa. They have requested the Government to declare the Kunbi the signature fabric of Goa. So although the forgotten fabric is now being recreated albeit in a region outside Goa and for now it can’t proudly bear the tag of ‘Made in Goa’, we are still thankful to the cultural researchers for bringing such an important part of Goa’s history to life.

Samira Sheth is thrilled to see the traditional Goan Adivasi sari  rought to life under the dedicated efforts of Dr. Rohit  Halgaonkar and Vinayak Khedekar

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Author: Planet Goa Team
For us at Planet-Goa, our team is driven by that feeling of exhilaration that one gets when discovering that something ‘unique’ and ‘new’ about Goa for our ever-so-discerning readers.

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