Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Shahtoosh

Since I am an Omani, I wear the traditional Omani dress to work every single day, which includes the mussar (turban). The Omani mussar is basically a square shawl which is folded in half diagonally and worn as a head-dress. The shawls are mostly made in Kashmir. There are various types of mussar shawls and they are usually made from cashmere-like wool. Those of decent quality are called "turma" and cost around 50 rials. The very best ones are called "shahtoosh" (Persian for "king of wools") and usually start at over 100 rials, often going for as much as 400 rials and more. The shahtoosh shawls or mussars are also known as "ring shawls" because they can easily be passed through a finger ring. I don't have any of these shahtoosh shawls, but I do have a few turma blends which could have some percentage of shahtoosh in them. I never paid attention to this before, but the other day I was out shopping and saw a shawl which I really loved. I asked and was told it was 25% shahtoosh. Good right?

Not really. You see, shahtoosh is illegal. Trade in Shahtoosh is illegal just like ivory. Shahtoosh is made from the hair of the Tibetan antelope, known as chiru, which is three quarters the width of cashmere and one fifth of a human hair. 3 to 5 Tibetan antelopes die to provide wool to make a single shawl. This is an endangered species whose population has come down from around 1 million in 1900 to less than 75,000 today. China's State Forestry Administration estimates that 20,000 chiru are killed every year to make shahtoosh shawls. At this rate, the species will soon be extinct. The chiru are never caught and shorn of their hairs. They are always killed, usually with automatic guns.

Trade in shahtoosh is banned according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), of which Oman is a signatory. And yet you can buy shahtoosh shawls from most sellers in Muscat, which shows you how lax we are when it comes to stopping this kind of illegal traffic. In fact, shops often advertise in the paper here saying they have the finest shahtoosh shawls. Of course, Omani shahtoosh buyers probably constitute a tiny fraction of the total trade. The major markets for shahtoosh are Europe and America where prices begin at over $1000 and go up to as much as $4000.

I bet most people in Oman would take a stand against buying ivory. Most probably support the ban on whaling and support our government's membership in the IWC. So how come no one cares about the shahtoosh shawls. Is it because it is convenient for us to ignore it? After all, it's easy for other countries to enforce the ban since it's not part of their national dress. What do you think?

10 comments:

Najah said...

How about animal fur? This mussar might be different in some essence but we are all living creatures, we both have certain rights not to be killed for the purpose of fashion, quality…etc
There are many ethical issues we need to reconsider but oh well, blame those who buy it. Why do you buy it even if it did have 25% of it? The circle goes back again…


Between, this blog is cool, good job both of you, very interesting blog...

muscati said...

I didn't buy it. Maybe I should have made it clearer in my post. As for fur, I share the same view about it as shahtoosh. I didn't write about fur because nobody buys fur in Oman.

In Oman, we used to put oryx horns in the handles of khanjars, but then those got banned so they switched to gazzele horns, ivory and rhino horn. I think all three are banned now. I don't own a khanjar. I don't know what they use these days. I'm sure you can still find khanjars made with some of these banned horns in shops if you look. But I don't think any of them is as prevalent as shahtoosh.

rad goes mad said...

Hi, i am Mrs.Radhika, from, India. I have a Omani friend to whom i wish to present Mussar. May i know the size of the cloth and the colours that you normally like? Pl mail to rathikhar@gmail.com

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