I think it’s safe to say that Kuchi jewelry dominates the tribal fusion bellydance costume market, but it’s fun for me to see that adornment and textiles from this culture have made it into mainstream bohemian style. Here in Brescia, Italy, there is a shop next door to my apartment that had a bomber jacket decorated with a deconstructed Afghan belt as edging. I’ve seen gorgeous clutches popping up on my Instagram feed that are covered in Kuchi-style decorated coins and chains. I remember even seeing an episode of Top Chef on Bravo in which the hostess, Padma Lakshmi (former supermodel and actress) was sporting a Kuchi belt.
But I have to admit I have never taken the time to really learn much about where these pieces are coming from and who the Kuchi people of Afghanistan really are. So this week our 3-minute ethnography is dedicated to the Kuchi, or Kochi, tribes of Afghanistan:
5 Fun Facts:
- Kuchi or Kochi comes from ‘koch’ which means “migration” or nomad” in Persian and it’s an umbrella term for many of the nomadic peoples in Afghanistan. Most kuchis are actually of the Pashtoon ethnic group.
- There are about 3 million in total population Most are nomadic goat and sheep farmers, trading the products of their flock for grain, produce and necessities
- Though women have a very conservative role in the culture, they are known for wearing bright colors and gorgeous jewelry, startlingly elegant amidst the drab surroundings of their nomadic lifestyle, the desert and mountains.
- Their jewelry design reflects a blend between Middle Eastern and Central Asian design styles, utilizing coins, metal chain, bells, and colorful stones to create intricate jewelry.
- Since many of them are settling due to war and land disputes with the government (see below for moreo on this), jewelry-making has become another source of commercial trade and export for them. For collectors and enthusiasts, be aware that there is a broad spectrum of quality of materials (and therefore price) depending on whether the jewelry uses real silver and gemstones, or more readily available (and cheaper) metals and glass beads set in beeswax.
Since their country has been involved in war for over 30 years now, there have been major consequences on the Kuchi’s way of life. Certain groups of traders used to migrate annually between Afghanistan and the Indus Valley, trading along the way, but in the 1960s the Afghanistan and Pakistan borders were closed
making this trip impossible without special permissions from the governments.
Map from the Center of International Study & Development website
With the dangers facing them from various fighting factions, many Kuchis have opted to end their nomadic lifestyle, selling their livestock for a permanent home. Even this hasn’t worked in their favor very often, as nowadays, without documentation of land ownership or rights, the Afghanistan government doesn’t recognize any of the inherited claims to land for them to build their homes, schools, and mosques. In 2011, one group of elders claims that the government sent 2,000 soldiers to open fire into a mosque that the Kuchis had built for themselves on land they claimed ownership of. Land disputes are the biggest bane of their current existence, as well as heavy disdain from the government. (It’s said that these are the reasons why there are many kuchis who support or join the Taliban)
There you have it – your 3 minutes of cultural connections this month. Please join the fun as it continues on social media! Share your favorite kuchi pieces, how you incorporate them into costume or your everyday tribal boho looks or home decor!
#showmeyourkuchi and #everydaytribal
This is just a summary! For further reading, here are great places to start:
Gorogeous pictorial journey of photographer Varial Cedric Houin, who spent time documenting and capturing one particular group of kuchis living in the Wakhan Corridor
Redcamel.net has long been trading with tribal peoples for jewelry and textiles around the world
*This is not a paid or sponsored blog.
*If you see any information you feel is incorrect, please contact me! I am in no way an expert, just an enthusiast!