Kusuthara, Surviving the test of time

In the picturesque village of Khoma, 10km away from Lhuentse town, girls as young as eight are initiated into weaving. Young girls are seen near their mothers, learning how to weave intricate and colorful patterns with handlooms.

Khoma village is known for weaving Kusuthara, the most famous and expensive attire for women in the country, and it seems like the tradition is here to stay.

Despite understanding the importance of education and promises of city comforts, children in Khoma gewog feel that they will be better off weaving Kusuthara. They believe they should carry forward the tradition instead of looking for greener pastures.

The younger generation in the village has access to modern education but they are happy doing what they best love: weaving.

Talking to Business Bhutan, Khoma gup, Sithar Tshering said there are about 250 weavers in Khoma gewog and around 80 students. Though the young children are not fully engaged in weaving they take part in their activity of pride during the vacations.

“Children go to school but during the vacations, they sit next to their mothers and learn the art of weaving. Weaving empowers women not only by supplementing family income but by being a source of livelihood,” said the Gup.

The Gup also mentioned that a threat can never befall the tradition of weaving unless people migrate from the village to towns. “Here, women weave until they turn blind.”

Sithar Lhamo, 83, is the oldest weaver in Khoma village. She learnt weaving from a man named ‘Poenchen’ who was a well-versed weaver. He died 17 years back. She still weaves despite poor eyesight and guides younger weavers.

Children have even dropt out of school to pusue weaving. Among them is 25-year-old Jamyang Choden, one of the youngest weavers in Khoma. She learned weaving at the age of eight mentored by her mother. What fascinated her most was the shuttling of the threads to and fro. She studied till class VIII, and left school to be a full-time weaver. She is married with two daughters.

Another is Tshenden Dema, 24, who completed higher secondary school in 2014. She is today staying in the village with her parents and weaving Kusuthara to support her family.

“I wanted to start my career as a weaver and help my parents. I weave about three Kusutharas a year as during summer I help my parents in the field and it is only during winter I get time to weave. I am happy being a weaver carrying forward the tradition,” she said with a smile.

Nima Eden, 43, and mother of two daughters said that she started weaving at age of 10. Her two daughters, 13 and nine respectively, also weave. Her elder daughter is almost an expert while the younger daughter is still learning.

Sharing her experience, Pema Tshoki, 13, studying in class VI in Khoma Lower Secondary school in Lhuentse said, “I started weaving with help from my mother but I started off with simple and easy patterns. I started weaving from age nine. Since it is summer break, I am weaving. I am able to manage my time between studies and weaving. In future if I do not get job, I will weave.”

Nine-year-old Tenzin Eden in class two also studying in Khoma Lower Secondary School said that she has just started weaving and is working on a table cloth. “Weaving a table cloth is easy but initially I had a tough time learning; with help from my mother and sister though, I am picking up the art,” she said.

Dorji Nang Gong, Salang, shingloo, phub, yu-drung, zhap pa shiwa, kha sha lhangthey, lha dri metho, tanka, shongpaling and prang are some of the Kusuthara patterns.

However, Kusuthara faces a major threat from cheaper versions in the west, which has left weavers losing out on desired prices.

Weavers usually take three months to complete a bjang (panel) and sometimes more depending on the patterns. According to weavers, it takes a total of one and half kilograms of silk to weave two bjang (panel) which would cost about Nu 5,500-Nu 7,000 depending where one buys the silk: Phuentsholing, Thimphu or Khoma village itself.

However, if one wishes to provide silk and ask for particular patterns, the weavers charge between Nu 15,000-Nu 17,000 depending on the patterns.

People in Khoma village depend mainly on weaving and agriculture.

Member of National Council (NC) of Lhuentse constituency, Tempa Dorji, said the government must find a way out to keep the tradition going as several factors pose threats to it including rural to urban migration.

“The government should start employment schemes in rural areas and such issues should be approached holistically. The poor villagers can’t survive on weaving alone. There are not many young weavers and the present weavers are aged. Once the old ones pass away, not many weavers would be left,” said NC member Tempa Dorji.

Chencho Dema from Lhuentse