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ENHANCING OUR SMALL UNIQUE NAGA HANDLOOM AND TEXTILE WORLD GLOBALLY

TIALEM PONGEN THIRAH

Transitioned period for Naga weavers, designers, and fashion experts. The fashionista entrepreneurs having teamed up together to curved and have maintained their niches in the traditional fabric production method are undergoing here in Nagaland, India.

Contemporary designs are blooming in all the sectors. Nagas textile world is adding varieties of spectacular designs. Be it with a dash of Eri Silk weaves, bamboos, handloom dash even in the curtains, table mats, window blinds, shawls, dress materials, cushion covers, bed covers, linens, curtains and ethnic doll making culture is flourishing in the market with many buyers increasing in the recent years.

 Naga has its natural skills with their creative touch in spinning, weaving, and dying for centuries.

 Our textile products, in general, can be used in more productive ways; we can produce uniforms for hotels, schools, colleges, medicals and can represent the luxury and quality of the textile brand perfectly and showcase the amazing weavers’ techniques and skills of our Nagas.

And therefore, one can revive a dying art and enrich many stories of our forgotten weaves and dyes.

Some recent survey includes that the tribal textiles of Nagaland are flourishing due to the abundances of cotton and skilled workers. Therefore one can help with our employment problem as well.

23           The process of spinning and weaving cotton are simple yet the motifs and patterns that are woven on to the cloth and have intricate designs. Textile dyeing is a significant art among the Nagas. Our farmers need to do some experiments in planting some natural fibers. There is no harm in taking the initiative to become the Eco-fashion friendly. We can argue that the cultivation of natural fibers is dependent on pesticides and extraction is dependent on petrochemicals. One should believe in promoting sustainable fashion and a safe environment for the next generation. The use of natural fibers harvested with bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides is advocated. Energy-efficient options are mooted for the extraction of fibers. One can encourage and can resolve to understand natural fibers better and increase their consumption if they are produced organically and meet ethical fashion standards. All the fibers that can be made available in the farmer’s market are a few fibers that we need to get acquainted with to contribute positively towards a better environment.

           Though in recent years some weavers are experimenting with chemically dyed thread imported from the plains of Assam and Myanmar in our Naga cloth, adding more designs for contemporary designers as well.

           Every traditional piece of Naga wear is an expression of the Naga Philosophy of life, world view, and traditional values. Naga cloth and traditional Naga attire express a great aesthetic sense embedded in and shaped by the natural environment, a heightening of their deep awareness and understanding of being part of nature.

           Present Naga textiles can hardly be compared in richness and diversity to the weaving that existed in our societies in the 19th to the mid- 20th centuries. However, our sense of form and much of the knowledge concerning the traditional meanings of cloth are still alive. Simplicity and limitation to form and color contribute to the beauty and energy of Naga Textiles which are angular and geometrical. Designs may vary from a formal arrangement of lines to elaborate lozenge shape patterns. Straight forward lines, strips, squares, and bands are the most traditional motifs; monotony is avoided by varying the size, color, and arrangement, contrasts and combinations of colors and expertly chosen. Stripes and bands on skirts and shawls are usually horizontal, testimony to the fine eye of our Naga weavers and designers having awareness of how such lines drape on the body.

           The garments intended for use by men are more spectacular in colour and design. This is due to traditional values in Naga society relating to warfare, heroism, and paternalism. However, even if the cloth worn by women is quieter, it is no less beautiful or intricately, designed than that worn by men.

           The Nagas are people of natural beauty. They have an impeccable feeling for beauty too. Unlike many other tribal regions around the world where the impact of western civilization has meant a diminishment or loss in their sense, the Naga by and large have maintained their aesthetic values.

           Ornaments and dress have been used for centuries to communicate bravery, powers, wealth, rank, and prestige in various social spheres. Nowhere is this seen better than in the Naga weaving.

           Cotton is grown in many areas on small scale. A special process is involved in producing the white yarn for this cloth it is made from a nettle fiber that turns black when dried and only through hours of boiling in rice powder is its lasting white colour finally achieved.

           Among the Nagas all the processes involved in fabric- making – the picking of the cotton or other fibers, ginning, spinning and dyeing, and the final weaving process on the backstrap or “ Indonesian” loom- are the exclusive preserve of women. A lot of taboos are associated with the process. Every Naga woman weaves cloth for her family and much of the process is performed communally, accompanied by song and prayer. Even through ready- the coloured thread is available from the local markets, it has not discouraged the Nagas from producing their old indigenous colours, of black, blue, red, white and, to a lesser degree, yellow from the leaves of plants leaves such as indigo strobilanthes flaccdifolius (blue), creeper roots (red) and tree stems or blossoms (Yellow). The dyeing of goat’s hair red a very valuable addition to the warrior hats, daos, and sashes among most of the different Naga peoples is the only dyeing procedure reserved for men. After maintaining a genna period this sacred act is performed secretly deep in the forest.

           It takes nearly 10 hours for an expert weaver to complete the plain strip; in other words, 30 hours are required to weave a complete cloth. The weaving of cloth with decorative designs takes double the time if not longer. The design is mostly created by using different colours of warp at different stages or by the extra weft weaving method, in which the warp yarns are lifted by a bamboo stick or by a porcupine quill and an extra thread is passed through.

           Ornaments and status symbolism connected with our textile world as well. Be with at the great ritual occasion of Naga society, such as the spring festival of our different Naga tribes, a Feast of merit, the bringing in of a head or a new log-gong, Naga men and women don ceremonial dress and ornaments. All in colour and motion. For the Nagas, ornaments are more than a matter of aesthetic. They help make statements about, and to define, the identity of individuals and groups. Indeed, their importance is such that ornaments are part of the definition of being truly human. It is only from a corpse that ornaments are removed.

           In this account a particular theory is put forward, which uses ornaments, as an item of material culture, to develop the idea that the Nagas are one society with a generalized culture that is capable of many specific ‘transformations’ ( that is, the tribes’).

           This way of looking at ornaments – as a symbolic vocabulary- is not at all similar to earlier ‘degeneration’ theory, which conjectured ‘origins’ for particular ornaments in a supposed functional use. It is also distinct from the idea that each tribe has its own ‘package’ of objects, which can be listed in a finite, even exhaustive way, the tribe by implication defined as the group which possesses this list of object.

           In Naga material culture, the Nagas use many natural objects, but they constitute an infinite list of possibilities (deriving from feathers, teeth, horns, shells, tusks, wood, and so on). Over the Naga area as a whole, there is considerable diversity, but the impression is given of variations on a theme’, as some diagram suggests. The conclusion that is advance here, is that this variation help to identify people and units of each other, but also contribute to changing the nature of these units, because merely by being displayed the encourage competition over an inherently intangible commodity, ‘fertility’.

           An initial point of importance must be stressed. Although some Naga ornaments are of no particular significance and which can be worn by anyone as and when they like, most Naga ornaments have a particular meaning, and they are, therefore ‘powerful’. Not surprisingly, the right to wear them is strictly controlled. They seem to be a source of power in their own right, in the sense that they must be handled with care as if their power were a double-edged quality that could be mishandled.

           We all are aware that in the beginning human beings were covered with hair. With time, they stripped it off, using it to weave cloth. Later, when all the hair had been used up, they restored to a nettle, from which they made yarn. The spider was the first weaver in the world. It was by watching it spin its web that the women became proficient in the art and the men learned to span rivers with cane suspension bridges.

           For the people of Naga as well as the Northeast India textiles and jewelry are not merely a matter of fashion or decoration. Woven garments, a carved wooden amulet, a bracelet, a necklace, or a belt are status symbols and indicate to which tribe the wearer belongs; yet they also take up mythological motifs as well as those specific to the artist’s environment, some of which are rendered in abstract shapes.

           The most figurative images are those found in the woven and embroidered cloth of the tribes of Nagas and the tribes of Northeast India. Abstract elements, such as zigzags, rhombs, triangles, and squares, which form the basic patterns of Northeast Indian fabric, are replete with symbolism, even if this has played a less important role in recent years.

           The motifs bear witness to the artists’ extraordinary capacity for abstraction. They reveal the worldview of the artists who conceived them, for whom an abstract form, a symbol, represents a path leading to a higher truth. The symbolism of Northeast Indian tribes reveals remarkable parallels to that of other “primitive” peoples. The power of expression inherent in such symbolism was rediscovered in the early 20th century by western abstract artists, for whom it served as a fountainhead of creative inspiration.

           Many textile designs reflect the social and religious systems of the tribe from which they originate. Other designs can be understood as an artist’s attempt to depict, and therefore re-create, the world around him. For this reason, numerous motifs are drawn from everyday life and depict natural phenomena and such quotidian objects as ropes, coal tongs, flowers, shrubs, and bamboo leaves. This does not mean, however, that these images are devoid of symbolic meaning. Many of the weaving designs of the Naga reveal aspects of their traditional lifestyles.

Cotton Spinning into yarn, fluffing and the beating
Cotton Spinning into yarn, fluffing and the beating

           The Naga People adorn their textiles with cowry shells, which represents the moon and the heads of slain enemies. The source of this symbolism is the fertility cult, which is an integral part of Naga culture. The tradition of headhunting was thought to preserve and revive fertility in the people and fecundity in the fields. Since the cultivation of crops and human conception is influenced by the cyclical phases of the moon, it seems only logical phases of the moon to associate the moon with the human head, which, according to Naga belief, is the source of fertility.

           The symbolic equation shows that the indigenous people believe worldly events are inextricably linked with cosmic forces, with which they wish to live in harmony. Woven patterns are thought to express the knowledge and understanding of such correspondences.

           All things cosmic are believed to have earthly equivalents.

           The colour used in a given textile is also symbolically significant. For some tribes of Nagaland, Red signifies the blood of enemies. Red used on a sash or the scabbard of a dagger stands for the fire used to burn the enemy’s village. Blue represents the sky and black the night. Thus, a black Naga shawl incorporating a red zigzag pattern and a red border can be interpreted as a nightly head-hunting foray, the red zigzag symbolizing the tortuous path through the jungle. Only a successful head- hunter head was entitled to wear a garment bearing such symbolism. Moreover, many fabrics are reserved for certain echelons of society, for they indicate the social standing of the person wearing them.

           The importance of weaving to the indigenous peoples is illustrated by the proportionally large number of words used to describe the art or anything relating to it. Weaving is the exclusive domain of women- a man who tries to weave will be deprived of his manhood or his luck or the hunt. In some tribes, weaving is an honor reserved exclusively for the chief’s daughters. In some societies, it was common to sacrifice an animal every time a fabric was completed. Furthermore, taboos often involve weaving. After every festival, for instance, a taboo period is imposed on weaving.

           The same is true following births, miscarriages, unnatural deaths, or rituals performed to heal the sick, however then a taboo period is imposed on nearly all handicrafts and sometimes on all villagers. The period can last up to a year.

           This explains certain attitudes tribal peoples have towards objects they have made, which are thought to be invested with the spirit- that is, the positive and negative aspects- of the artist. That is why traditional peoples rarely sell their handicrafts objects. The faith, or the soul, of the artist and wearer, inheres in the object to sell it would mean to sell a piece of the owner’s soul.

           Our mythology of weaving which I have collected and extract from some of our renowned writers and wanted to revive our dying loom and expand it globally. Come to our land and explore our small hidden world and rediscover our small world of textiles.

 

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