Textile in Bhutan

We have Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the Tibetan lama who unified Bhutan in 1634, to thank for today’s textile treasures. He established rules that covered everything, including how people should dress. At one time, even farmers in the field were required to wear traditional garments when they plowed.

Women’s Wear. The basics for women and girls are a wonju, or blouse; an ankle-length kira, or dress; and a tego, or a short, open jacket. A long, fringed kera, or woven belt, holds the kira in place at the waist. Regardless of social status, these are the three essential garments most woman wear in public.

Men’s Wear. The basics for men and boys are quite simple: a gho, a knee-length, kimono-like garment tied at the waist with a kera. (Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel himself invented the gho to distinguish a Bhutanese man from a Tibetan.) Underneath the gho, a man sometimes wears a shirt, or tego, with long sleeves and turned up cuffs. Above his belt is tied a pouch, which today is more likely to carry a cell phone than betel nut or a dagger. When it’s cold, a man may also wear domtha, or traditional cotton or silk trousers. Knee socks are worn on the legs, although some men now wear modern pants beneath the gho.

The mountainous terrain, and more importantly, the deep valleys in between allowed various ethnic tribes to remain isolated from each other until modern times. Consequently, their textiles reflect the weavers’ environments.

As climates vary, so does the cloth. Silk and cotton clothing might have been de rigueurin the warm, dry east, while heavy wool fabric is worn in central Bhutan.

The aboriginal Tshanglas, or Sharchops, in the east continue to work with raw silk. The Bumthaps of central Bhutan raise yaks and sheep, so they weave with wool and yak hair. The nomadic Brokpa of far eastern Bhutan spin and weave with wool to make their traditional thembas, the heavy and warm capes worn by women.