Illuminating Tradition in the Heart of Desert Lands - The History and Art of Camel Skin Lamps

Illuminating Tradition in the Heart of Desert Lands - The History and Art of Camel Skin Lamps

The subcontinent, with its moderate climate, abundant resources, and burgeoning population, has perpetually served as a fertile ground for nurturing traditions, cultures, and breakthroughs. The coexistence of diverse ideologies, religions, and customs has given rise to a captivating history marked by ingenuity and vibrancy. In the scorching deserts of south Punjab and Balochistan, resides a heritage that resonates with this legacy – the art of crafting Camel skin lamps. This art form has endured for centuries, thriving in the heart of the desert and earning admiration and acclamation for its artistic prowess and masterful craftsmanship.


Drying leather, South Punjab, Pakistan, Source: unknown

Camels have been an important element of nomadic life in Pakistan. Due to its versatility and adaptability to harsh and challenging climatic conditions, these animals have been revered for not only their milk and dairy derivatives but also their hides and hair.
Camel leather and its by-products such as lamps, carpets, bags, storage pouches and shoes have been a thriving cottage industry in arid climates providing sustenance and color against the burning sands of the desert. The use of Camel leather has been a skill used by nomadic tribes thriving in the desert for millennia. With its low-fat content and translucent nature, when used in lamp making, crafters have been able to mould it into captivating forms that emit a soft iridescent light, ideal for creating a soft ambience that accentuates your spaces.

Molding leather after drying process, Pakistan, Source: unknown

The process of crafting these lampshades has been passed down generations often strictly kept within the family to protect the exclusivity and trademark signature of the artisans. The making starts by washing the drying the skin until it is bleached white. Scraping off excess and creating paper-thin layers, artisans delicately stack pieces of the skin onto a handmade clay mould while running the scraped excess through a meat grinder to create a paste that repair holes in the mould. Due to its low-fat content, this leather is not only stretchable but dries and hardens into pale sheer lamp that allows a soft light to pass through it. Once dried, the shades are painted with ‘Naqashi’; a 900-year-old technique used to paint traditional motifs and designs in multiple colours. The most popular images are regional flowers and motifs that help highlight the produce of the desert and its surrounding regions.

Naqashi on dried camel leather, Pakistan, Source: unknown

It can take an artist up to 10 days to finish one piece due to the meticulous and detail-orientated nature of the craft, one small mistake can break the flow of the design and render the lampshade useless. The final lamp is then varnished and set up on a wooden pedestal with an electrical connection, ready to sell. 

Painted lamp with base, South Punjab, Pakistan, Source: unknown

Crafting these lamps is a laborious and time-consuming process. Artisans push and pull over every lampshade to create a perfect piece that embodies the essence of the rich history and culture of their homeland and helps create a more sustainable economy that utilises natural and abundant resources available locally to them. However, Pakistan’s shaky political climate has hindered tourism in recent years, forcing many artisans to quit work and look for more profitable options. Though the population of makers has dwindled over time, some artisans are still dedicated to the age-old tradition of the trade and are diligently working to protect their culture through introducing their products on online forums such as where you can get exclusively handmade camel skin lamps made in Pakistan. In the last 5 years, online platforms and social networking sites have been a great source of income and appreciation for these craftsmen helping them keep their skills alive and attracting potential students to pass down the craft to them.

Various lamp shades and designs, Pakistan, Source:

Camel skin lamps have been a creative and thriving cottage industry in the arid climates of South Punjab for over a millennium, yielding jobs while helping nomad communities maintain a healthy cycle of sustainability and creativity in environments where resources are limited. Though the process is laborious, crafters are dedicated to creating art that speaks a story of their land, inviting people to admire and appreciate the history and beauty of the arid lands of Punjab.


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