Ancient craft skills survive

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 August, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 August, 1996, 12:00am

Leather and finished leather goods form a crucial part of Pakistan's export industry.

The largest leather production is footwear manufacturing, which is concentrated mainly in the Punjab region and around Karachi.

Although most of Pakistan's leather goods are manufactured for export, the skills of the traditional craftsmen have survived. In the poorer areas, handicrafts are decorative and functional. In many villages, a water carrier made out of leather, known as a mashak, is still used.

Only recently have cooking utensils made out of local rock given way to modern cook ware in the northern areas.

The cooking utensils of the Wakhi tribe are carved out of stone and engraved with traditional motifs. Each region has its own distinct crafts, determined by the climate and raw materials. The arrival of Islam in northern Pakistan saw traditional craftsmen's skills incorporated into religious artefacts and buildings.

Some of the best examples of woodcraft can be seen in the carved doors and columns of mosques.

Several villagers would move huge tree trunks from low lying areas to higher altitudes, where most of the mosques are found. The tradition is continued today in the Seo Valley, where craftsmen from the Daruzgar community are paid for their work with maize.

Pakistan's crafts industry flourished along the Silk Road route and today the legacy of what was one of the world's most important trade links can still be seen in the jewellery, embroidery, weaving, woodwork, stoneware, carpets and musical instruments.

Pakistan's finest embroidery is considered to come from Swat, Hazara and Chitral, where the material Khaddar, fine silk thread and occasionally white cotton thread are used.

A style known as Phoolkari was traditionally sewn on ceremonial dresses. Before getting married, girls would spend their time decorating bed covers and shawls in the same way.

Saddlery is another popular leather craft. The saddles produced in Pakistan are heavily patterned, a technique created by using a stamp to repeat the design.

Artists in the Multan region prefer to use camel skin, moulding the hide into pottery and applying lacquer mixes to colourful effect. They also make vases, bottles, bowls, dishes and plates from the skin.