Threads of Tradition: The Art of Weaving by Indigenous Communities of Bangladesh

Indigenous communities inhabiting the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh are recognized for their great diversity of cultures and customs. One of the many traditions that reflect their cultural heritage, handloom weaving is an integral and treasured textile craft which preserves the cultural legacy and identity of the CHT indigenous peoples. It is a skilled artistry that has been passed down through the generations and possesses deep-rooted historical and cultural significance. Indigenous women in particular are involved in these activities as they not only contribute to the adding a cultural value to their creations but also aids in the economic empowerment by supplying a consistent supply of materials that guarantee the production of high-quality handwoven handicrafts. 

Handloom textiles are woven intricately with designs and patterns representative of the specific cultural identities and ethnicity that they pertain to. Indigenous communities from Bangladesh such as Tripura, Marma, Bawm, Mro, Chakma, Tanchangya, Pangkhua, Lushai, Rakhain, Garo, and more perceive weaving as an iconic aspect of their cultural inheritance. The pieces weave the stories of the ethnic minorities connecting the past and the present, ranging from colourful patterns to symbolic motifs, and ensure the preservation of their cultural legacy. Weaving artisans take inspiration from the natural world, folklore, and customary practices. These fabrics are frequently used for a variety of occasions including festivals and ceremonies, where they are proudly worn,fostering a feeling of collective identity. 

Handloom production in the CHT yields textiles that are more than just functional; rather they are exquisite works of art that capture the unique essence of each indigenous community. Using a manually regulated loom, handloom weaving necessitates a high level of skill and expertise. By adorning elaborate design elements, representations, and motifs, artisans often create textiles that are bursting with colours and symbols of their respective cultural heritage which hold unique significance for the indigenous cultures. An extensive range of textiles, including warm blankets, garments, shawls, scarves, and other traditional attire, are produced by local weavers. Every item is a distinctive creation of artistry that accomplishes its dual purpose as a cultural emblem and a useful commodity. 

Each of the indigenous communities adopt unique weaving skills and tools and their methods vary from one to another. The selection and gathering of raw materials is usually the first step in the weaving process. Natural fibres like cotton are the most commonly used. That cotton is either locally-sourced from the markets or cultivated by themselves. Cotton fibres are processed into yarn through the process of spinning. Local indigenous women spin raw cotton into fine threads by running the fibres through handheld spinning wheels. Furthermore, the thickness and quality of the yarn are determined by the specific needs of the intended textile. After yarn has been spun, natural pigments derived from plants, roots, and other organic elements are usually used to dye it.  

The loom is one of the most crucial pieces of equipment that is utilised for weaving. Artisans set up the loom which varies in size and complexity. The threads are carefully arranged horizontally (weft) and vertically (warp) to serve as the foundation of the fabric. After the loom is set up, the weaving finally begins. This entails weft threads passing through warp strands in an organised manner. The intricate patterns and designs are created by meticulously manipulating the threads throughout the entire procedure.  


Indigenous weavers unfortunately have to navigate numerous challenges in maintaining their craft. The long-term sustainability of this traditional craft is threatened by mass-production of fabrics by the garments industry, constrained market access, and financial limitations. Concerns on the continuation of this long-standing cultural practice are further heightened by the advancement of technology and evolving preferences of the younger generation. The initiatives aimed at strengthening market accessibility, training new weaversg, and educating the public about the cultural and historical relevance of handloom weaving need to become more prevalent and effective. Furthermore, advocacy for indigenous women’s rights in the larger community is critical to securing their  fair compensation, healthcare services, secure working environments, and equal access. It is imperative to guarantee the continued existence and sustainability of weaving as a craft for future generations to come.