The elaborate floral headdresses held my attention the most, when I visited the Brokpa Community in Dha, Ladakh, India. It is said that Alexander’s army stayed back and nestled in these regions. Folklore says they came from gilgit in Pakistan. These 1800 people now live in villages of Dha, Hanu, Darchi, Garkon and are primarily Buddhist with a minority of Islam.
The History of the Brokpa Community
Inter-mixing with outsiders by way of marriage and kinship is forbidden to maintain their racial purity. It is fascinating that Brokpas are preserving their culture and identity of 5000 years through adornment. One can see close resemblance of traditions and style to the Kalash people in Chitral Pakistan.
The Headdress of the Brokpa Community
Apparently the women wear their adornment even when they work in the fields. The headdress includes rows of coins stitched together for ornamentation, with some dating as far back as 1890, and bright ribbons. Even the men sport flowers. A man from the community looks sturdy, tall and fair with distinct European features: high cheekbones, deep almond shaped blue-green eyes, and light brown hair. The Indo aryan features compliment the extravagant outfit. On top of their Kaftan, there are shells, coins, threads, animal fur, silver jewellery hanging from their necks and arms. Some of the jewellery has existed in their families for many generations and there are no new ornaments that are made or sold outside the community.
The Importance of Flowers for the Community
Women love flowers, and wear their perennial flowers called Monthu Tho or Shoklo throughout the year. The older Brokpa wear pearly button ear decorations, and the women tie their hair in interlocked multi-stranded braids similar to knotted dreadlocks. One of the members told us that each prop on the head gear has some medicinal purpose. The seven coloured ribbon wards any ailment caused by the Sun or eclipse. The silver brooches ward off planetary influences, the peacock feather wards off paralysis. Mountains, trees, water and flowers are considered very pure. Thus every Brokpa household grows flowers. The flowers are considered auspicious and they also signify love and prosperity in the community.
Other Traditions of the Brokpa Community
There is a tradition of singing and dancing within the community, which also becomes an occasion to adorn themselves. During the festival of Bono–na, which takes place every three years to celebrate the fertility of crops and women, the womenfolk sing songs to attract men for copulation, and to ask for their hand in marriage.
The new generation of this tribe goes to the city and is also educated to work as engineers and doctors. The big questions is how will one then preserve the tradition if these few start to mingle with the city people. It is fascinating to see that this tribe can survive with just local products and really live harmoniously in a community. Something that modern societies are trying to do through campaigns of local produce and community living.
© All photos by Sayali Goyal