At first glance, South Rupshi looks like any other village in the Bangladeshi countryside. Tea stalls line the roads, kids play in the mid-day heat. Rickshaw-drivers pedal their decorated bikes. But something sets it out from other villages. Everywhere, bundles of yarn are left to dry in the sun. People on their porches spin threads onto spindles, scarves flow in the wind. South Rupshi is the ancestral home of a proud tradition in Bangladesh: the age-old jamdani weaving.
These days the village weavers are busy. The demand for saris is growing, the handmade fabrics are sold to customers all over Bangladesh and India, and exported abroad. Last year, UNESCO declared jamdani an intangible cultural heritage, stating its importance in Bangladesh as “a symbol of identity, dignity and self-recognition”. But things used to be different. Only a few decades ago, traditional weaving was a forgotten heritage.
Until sari entrepreneur Monira Emdad came and brought it back to memory. “In the early 80’s when traveling in rural Bangladesh, I came across hand-woven saris, more beautiful than I had seen anywhere else. I started bringing them to Dhaka, selling them from a small tin shed,” she says. Her efforts started a jamdani revival, which has meant the craft is now passed down to the next generation – providing an alternative to a rural workforce which otherwise is pushed into low-paying jobs with unsafe conditions. “This is much better for us. We can stay in the village and work nearby our families. And it’s not dangerous, we only use our brains here,” says weaver Mohammad Azim.