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Loin Loom: The backbone of our cultural identity and It’s cry for help

“To let die of this beautiful art form should never even be an option, but to make it a part of our livelihood by promoting it and practicing it should be the only option.”  -Asangla Jamir

Asangla Jamir

Loinloom, is not just an art, it is the mirror reflection of our identity which holds together the cultural ethnicity, the tradition and the craftsmanship of our society. But sadly, it is on the verge of its extinct and cries for help from the pit scratching its way for more attention. Loinloom, one of the oldest devices for weaving textiles, is a backstrap loom found in parts of Northeast India, China, Bhutan and Myanmar. That being said, Nagaland is among the very few places with this valuable culture still adept. Over the years it has attracted so many international brands into the domain. The northeast state has tremendous potential in promoting loin loom sector as a trademark for the ethnicity because the region has been widely applauded for their indigenous variety and interesting use of color play and motifs.We should understand that when we weave, we are not only creating a beautiful design out of it but we are narrating stories about the essence of our cultural foundation.

What is loinloom?
Loinloom is a weaving technique, which has a back strap with a continuous horizontal wrap. It produces narrow strips of cloth with not more than 18 inches of finished width. To achieve a bigger width, different strips are stitched together. Traditionally, the colors used were natural dye color palette of black, blue, red and white with additions of green and yellow which is obtained from minerals and forest products. Loinloom in all aspect is quiet unique and different from all the other loom types used in other parts of India. Although, being a simple device, the craftsmanship involved in it is intricate starting from the texture, color and its design each holding its own deep meaning. For example, the Ao Naga tribe warrior shawl has its distinctive pattern, the symbol on its central white band representing valor, strength and prowess. It is hand painted in black with a sharpened bamboo stick. The color is obtained from tree sap, mixed with string rice brew and bamboo leaf ash. The aesthetic appeal to the woven cloths includes geometric patterns which represents nature through symbols and colors. Each weave has a cultural significance and have myths and legends associated with it.

Sorting and Preparing the dying ingredients and then pounding them together
Sorting and Preparing of dying ingredients and then pounding them together

Why loinloom should be valued?
Traditionally, every household had loin loom shuttle. Every women despite of their tasking work to look after the field, cook, do household chores and look after the family still had time to sit down and create magic out of their hands and weave something beautiful. And this skill is handed down from generation to generation. The infusion of modernization with its value addition elevated this industry not only to make shawls but also garments like waistcoats and dresses out of it. Due to its high value, presenting of tribal shawls to VIPs and guests is regarded as the highest form of honor as love is woven into the cloth. The value of woven cloth is more than its material value. It carries several messages of tradition and culture, love and patience, and enduring sense of identity. Having said that, the present generation has a very important duty to preserve and promote it. Loin loom plays a big role in Naga cultural identity, every Naga wearing their traditional attire is identified at one glance as to which tribe, village or clan one belongs to. And without it, we are not only killing the textile industry, but also we are losing our identity and suffocating our younger generations with a masqueraded and a diluted society.

Why it is a dying art?
It would be wrong to say that the age old practice of traditional weaving has declined. It is very much in practiced. But it is a dying art. A stronghold in the niche market is the need of the hour as a very large section of the loin loom weavers has given up weaving for a faster growing market as they could not upkeep with the competition in the marketing industry. One of the many reason is also because, we do not know the scope in the bigger market. We seldom focus on the domestic market, but loin loom has its value beyond that in the export market in Europe, America and other foreign countries. Considering the economic role of the textiles in employment, generation and exports to developed countries, the intervention of the government is required; giving out trainings for better craftsmanship and empowering women of today with more job opportunities. There should be policies implemented and iterated according to the modern world and the standards of using quality products with more refined finishing needs to be upgraded to enter into the bigger market. Yet, not forgetting its eccentric value, which is very important. We can showcase our cultural identity through uniformity of designs with which buyers can identify that the product is from Nagaland through the items we sell them.
The influence of globalization and industrialization has severely affected the age old traditions and practices to a large extent. Witnessing firsthand, on how even the remotest village of Nagaland depends on finished machine products shows advancement. Yet, to withstand the onslaught of the machine product in terms of fashion or people’s choice to wear, has become a big challenge. We should look beyond the easy accessibility and focus on its sustainability. Yes, we cannot deny the fact that modern machine products are lighter, more affordable and more comfortable to wear which stand against the traditional ones which are time consuming and economically less viable, but we should also not forget that it is value loaded and there embeds our identity and it is becoming less significant among the younger generation today. Ask any random teenager wearing a traditional attire during a special occasion about the meaning behind the motifs and patterns of the attire they are wearing, and I doubt only a few, if not none, would really know the beautiful story behind the own weave they wear. And it is sad to see that our own society which was once value loaded entwined with a rich culture where we could proudly tell people that, yes, we belong to the Naga Community is slowly turning to a Cultureless society with no originality attached to it. Clothing is one among several emblems which gives a person his/her social identity. We communicate to the society at large through the clothes we wear, it is more than just a piece of woven textile, and it carries our cultural information. The intimacy we share together for the cloth we wear has been emotionally attached to us and it is carried down from generation to generation.
Weaving is tedious and slow in the world of fast growing commercialization but we should also understand it beyond that. We cannot deny that it is a slow fashion, but there lies in the beauty of its sustainability. It is the answer for the fashion industry in the nearer future as the products are organic, chemical free and it is all natural fiber, and that is why big fashion companies has their eye on the small region of Northeast India as a potential future market for fashion. So are we doing enough to revive back the uniqueness of the Naga textiles? The nature of the weaving industry has changed into a mechanized and commercialized industry losing its essence. Yarn and natural dyes are being replaced by mill made dyed yarns and cheap finished products. We rarely hear about cotton cultivation and yarn spinning today, we rarely hear the story of teenagers being able to weave, and we rarely see young people wearing our identity, special occasions being a concession. There is a shift to an entirely westernized influence society. What was once created as an internationally acclaimed space in the field of ingenious crafts with a bright future, is witnessing a demeaning affect due to duplicity. And this unethical business practices cannot be blamed entirely on the weavers, as with poor supply of raw materials and financial instability of the weavers having less knowledge on market linkages, they find an easy way out for survival game. So, it is high time for the Government of Nagaland to take interest in this sector and identify its scope for a brighter future. Also, speaking of which, even the stakeholders should take the risk to promote this beautiful art form and preserve it in every way possible.
The Limited market being one of the many challenges on the onset, the core essence of Naga Heritage, i.e, the Loin loom is diluting with many cheap and duplicity of the item with modern design, losing its ethnicity. What was supposed to be a “Slow Fashion” art, has been replaced by “cheap commercialization” of our culture as most of the designs are now modified and modernized with low quality selling at cheaper prices. Very few Naga women and rarely some young girls know how to weave these days. I can still remember my childhood days when my dad made a mini flying shuttle for me and my friend to practice and to play upon with, during our leisure. This vague memory speaks volume of how technology has replaced our leisure into a monotonous way of life.

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Talking about preserving and promoting our culture, we have the International Loin loom festival here in Nagaland organized by the Exotic Echo in a small village of Diezephe held every year in the first week of December coinciding with the Hornbill Festival. This unique event celebrates the dying art of loin loom weaving wherein; they sell and showcase a whole variety of stoles, shawls, and tops in more than 200 designs to shop from. They display the rudiments of cotton spinning, weaving and natural dyeing at workshops where we can experience firsthand and learn about this unique textile. Textile and tradition aside, the festival is a smorgasbord of food, music, art and culture with eclectic mix of people flocking from all over the world. It is not just an event celebrated but a discourse for empowering rural women by keeping them busy spinning and weaving. Taking up this challenge, the co-founder of Exotic Echo, Sonnie Kath has started with employing 15 women, and today more than 200 women are engaged in spinning and weaving. The Naga Villagers of Diezephe now, has revived their traditional crafts and weaves by adapting to market demands and by using modern tools, have found them as an ecofriendly livelihood. Unlikely to be found in other societies of Nagaland, every woman in Diezephe owns a loin loom and makes clothes, fashion wear and household furnishings, all catering to modern needs. Now the question is, can we revive our dying art and come up with another model village like Diezephe? The answer lies in the dawn of a new perspective and to study every aspect of weakness in the value chain, of which the government should implement new policies. Introduction of this dying art in formal education is a necessity as well. Wherein, students are given the option to learn weave or any other art form. It is important for the younger generation to appreciate the aesthetic value and skills which has been passed down for years. To let die of this beautiful art form should never even be an option, but to make it a part of our livelihood by promoting it and practicing it should be the only option.

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