The Weaving of Pakhha: A Unique Form of House-Making by the Fakirani Jat Women of Kachchh, Gujarat
Historically, Jats are pastoral communities whose roots are in Haleb, Baluchistan. They migrated to Sindh (Pakistan) and Kachchh (Gujarat) around 500 years ago. Jats in Kachchh are of four sub-communities mainly- Fakirani, Garasia, Hajiani, and Dhaneta. All these communities are known for rearing different animals, such as camels, cows, and buffaloes. Herds are constantly on the move to avoid overgrazing a single location. These communities are eventually settling and are turning into semi-nomads where women and children stay in the periphery of villages while men move around with the herds. They live in hamlets comprising 15–25 families with a lot of scrub foliage. This community is subsequently found on the mangrove forest fringes of Karachi in Pakistan, Lakhpat and Abdasa in Kachchh (Gujarat), Jamnagar, and even Khambhat in Gujarat.
In Kachchh, Fakirani Jats live along the coast, and they have a unique eco-tonal (species on the fringes of two adjoining ecosystems) camel species known as Kharai Camels. These camels are desert animals but can swim through the creeks and feed on mangrove plants. As the men of this community are constantly moving, all the responsibility of caring for the family comes down to women, which even includes constructing houses, a practice which is solely undertaken by the Fakhirani Jat women.
The Fakirani Jats have historically had a migratory lifestyle and as a result, they also prefer not to live in a pucca house or fully enclosed house which disconnects them from the external world. They prefer staying in a house that is airy, close to mother earth and easy to dismantle. They are known to move their houses and rework them every year. If some misfortune occurs they will immediately change the location of their house within the hamlet, reflecting the adaptable nature of their migratory patterns.
Elements of Pakhha:
In various parts of the country, house-making is traditionally a community process, where men and women of the village come together and help construct the house using their individual skills. Similarly, among Fakhirani Jats, the women of the hamlet along with their children, come together to weave a house. The community prefers to rebuild their Pakhha (their traditional homes) every year or two post-monsoon based on the damage that is done to the skin of the house.
Pakhhas built by the Fakhirani Jat women are a unique form of house-making that avoids using plinths to raise the house since plinths make the house form less transient for their migratory patterns. Instead, they use wooden frames and grass mats as construction materials for homes that move with them. The base of the Pakhha is made of earth or in some cases a thin layer of cement, in which the vertical wooden members of the walls are closely inserted. These vertical members are then tied with horizontal bamboo splits and mats are attached to them in such a way that they can open their walls as we open our curtains. This makes their house cool and breezy. The roof is also made with densely woven grass mats. The repair and rebuilding process of the Pakhha is planned in advance to accommodate people who can help in its construction/repair.
The existing Pakhhas are made entirely by women. The Jats have extended their excellent embroidery skills to weaving and stitching the Pakhhas together, and pass on their knowledge by training the younger generation. No nail is used in the making of Pakhha, everything including ledges for storage is tied using nylon and plastic threads. The colour palette of the exterior of the house merges with the landscape of Kachchh, while on the contrary, the interior of the house is decorated by painting the wooden skeletons in vibrant colours.