What transforms a young shepherd from Kachchh, Gujarat into a successful businessman, respected for his expertise? Over the past decade and a half, Vanka Kana Rabari Vankabhai and his wife Ramiben have established a successful business dealing in Rabari embroidery and traditional woollen textiles from Kachchh. Vankabhai has collaborated with academics and museum staff from all over the world, including the Textile Museum in Washington DC, the Museum of International Folk Art at Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Calico Museum of Textiles at Ahmedabad and most recently, De Montfort University and the Leicester Museums Service. .
The societal structure of rural Gujarat is, to a large extent, still organised according to caste. In accordance with tradition, the Rabari are animal herders. Typically, Vanka Kana Rabari followed in his father's footsteps and looked set for life as a herder. A disabling accident, a lucky break, and a passion for embroidery took his life on a very different course. He tells hrs own story.
'I am a native of Bhujodi, a few kilometres from Bhuj. The village was built on land given to Rabaris by the Rao ruler of Kachchh about five hundred years ago as a reward for loyal service.
'Rabaris have always been maldharis (herders) and our children learn these skills from an early age. Of course, that is changing but we are still known as camel herders, shepherds and dudhwalas, keepers of cattle/milkmen. As a small boy, I went with the dhang migratory group to help my fathe...