This post ends my current textile series, influences of other cultures on Indian textiles. Today’s topic is on a contemporary practice, surprisingly unknown to most outside the Siddhi Community.
I came across their quilts quite by accident on the internet, while researching another topic. Earlier on I had only known about their music, dance and herbal medicines.
The Siddis of Karnataka, India are the descendants of both early African immigrants to South Asia and enslaved Africans brought to Goa on India by the Portuguese in the beginning of the 16th century. Gradually, they escaped slavery and moved southward into the remote Western Ghatt mountains of Northern Karnataka ( approx. 63 kms south of Hubli) in order to create an independent community . Gujarat also has a Siddhi community that has settled there since the 16th century.
While they have adapted, and integrated many aspects of Indian cultures, Konkani being the language their have adopted, Siddis have also retained and transformed certain African traditions. It is quite amusing and interesting to see the women in their saris, most wear the traditional Ilkal saris, glass bangles doing a variation of the kantha running stitch, while their facial features and hair connect them so strongly to their African origin. The local Indian communities don’t have much to do with them and probably due to this, they have managed to retain their unique customs and identity.
In the visual arts, one tradition stands out: the patchwork quilts known as kawandi.
Used as both mattresses and covers, kawandi are made by women. Mixing together a vibrant array of well-worn fabrics, Siddi quilts are highly individualistic, yet quilters share many clear and precise opinions about quality, beauty, and the need to “finish properly” the corners with triangular patches called phulas, or flowers. Catholic and Muslim Siddi women sometimes incorporate crosses or crescents in their designs, and baby quilts in particular are often bejeweled with lots of small, colorful patches called tikeli. The quilts are made from scraps of old saris and clothes by the women for their children and grandchildren to keep them warm and comfortable during the cool monsoon season.
Henry Drewal, while doing a study on African communities in India, was in Mainalli and walking through the village, noticed these lovely vibrant kawandi draped over fences, hung on lines, or spread on low roofs to be aired in the sun.
In an effort to provide the women and the community with a source of income, He (along with colleagues) helped to create the Siddi Women’s Quilting Cooperative and sell the quilts. All income after expenses goes to the Cooperative for educational, health, and agricultural needs.He along with his wife Sarah Khan organized exhibitions in American galleries to promote the quilts. One particular person who was completely taken in by these quilts is Magaret Fabrizio, a fellow quilter. Her own introduction to the quilts , the women artisan and community is quite heartening for all of us who are passionate about the crafts. For those interested please watch her little documents regarding Siddhi quilts on you tube.
Image and source courtesy – google.co.in ; http://www.henrydrewal.com