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Cultural identity: G-B celebrates ‘Cap Day’ today

By Shabbir Mir

GILGIT: People across Gilgit-Baltistan will don their traditional headgear of a white woolen cap with a feather in it to mark the first ever ‘Cap Day’ today (Saturday).

The region’s government had in April this year announced to observe the event annually in light of the rising number of tourists visiting the valley.

“We have decided to introduce our culture to the people living outside G-B and to foreign visitors,” Chief Minister Hafeezur Rehman said while announcing the annual day. “This is our identity and all government officials will put on the traditional cap on this day every year,” Rehman told The Express Tribune.

He added that special events will be held in all 10 districts of G-B to highlight the region’s rich culture. The region and the nascent tourism industry suffered a fatal blow after gunmen attacked the Nanga Parbat base camp in 2013, killing 10 foreigners.

Over 10,000 people associated with the tourism industry in G-B lost their jobs in the aftermath of the attack.

But with tourists returning in increasing numbers recently, with over 500,000 visiting G-B last year and an even greater number this year, the government decided to hold a ‘Cap Day’  day as an attraction and as a celebration of local culture.

Initially, the day was set to be marked on September 1 to coincide with autumn, but the date was later changed. The confusion saw many observed the day unofficially.

Weaves of history

The traditional Gilgiti cap is called “Shanti-Khoi” in the local language.

The soft, round and flat-topped cap is usually white in colour and is made from the finest wool. They are usually decorated with either a tuft of feathers or a flower.

Its history can be traced back to the days when the region was still divided among small, but fiercely independent princely states which existed before 1947. The cap itself is believed to have become a mainstay of the region during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Shanti-Khoi was conceptualised to escape the freezing winds of a region that sees the temperature drop  to 25 degree centigrade below freezing point during winters.

Considered the official headgear of G-B, no traditional formal dress in this mountain-locked region is considered complete without the cap.

Such is its importance that was incorporated into the official uniforms of the Gilgit  scouts during pre-partition days, a force commended by Major William Brown and it is still part of the uniform of Northern Light Infantry Regiment (NLI) today.

However, the traditional cap varies slightly from the ones worn in the rest of the region with locals identifying at least six different types of caps used in G-B.

“The cap of every valley is slightly different from others in shape and colour,” said Imitaz Wali, a resident of Gilgit.

Wali, said that the cap  worn in Baltistan differs in style and materials from the cap in Diamer and Ghizer. “By style I mean way the cap is worn.”

However, of late the tradition of wearing the cap among the younger generation has decreased and officials believe that the cap day would help revive the tradition.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2016.

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