“In order to keep the tradition alive, we are conducting training programmes of varying duration. All the products and substances used in the production of this Kunbi fabric will be 100 percent organic and authentic, using age-old traditional methods of weaving and not what is being presently dished out in the name of Kunbi,” Remedios said, adding that what is currently passed off as Kunbi weave is not the original weave traditionally used by the Kunbi community since centuries.
Expert weavers with years of experience can do about two sarees per day, but there are hardly such experts left and the art of Kunbi fabric weaving is an almost forgotten tradition.
The traditional Kunbi saree was worn by the Goan (and in some parts of Maharashtra) Kunbi tribal women before the advent of the Portuguese in the 16th century. It was a cotton-chequered red-and-white saree with a sturdy weave. Worn short, a little above the ankles with a knot over the shoulder, it was well-suited for working on farmlands and in hot weather.
According to tradition, the Kunbi drape is known as dethli (knotted) due to the peculiar knot on the right shoulder which secures the pallu. The folds of the sari skirt flare out on the right, instead of the usual left. The sari is worn at least a foot above the ankle to ensure mobility while working in the fields or even at home. The garment is an identity marker of the Kunbi community, a Scheduled Tribe of Goa. The term “Kunbi” is derived from the Konkani words “kun” (people) and “bi” (seed). “Kunbi”, therefore, literally refers to people who sow or germinate seeds.
Sometimes, stripes of white, green, purple and indigo were added near the pallu. A 2.5 to three-inch wide dobby border in streams of white or gold ran along the sides of these saris.
Today most Kunbi fabric is produced on power looms in Maharashtra, Belgaum and Karnataka and sold as “original Kunbi” to be worn by dancers and performers in Goa during festivals and events.
According to Remedios it takes about 2 days to weave a single Kunbi sari for a student, and new students take a minimum of one month to learn the basic art of weaving. Further expertise is picked up by practice over months, he says.