Weaves And Textiles of Nagaland
The people of Nagaland
are versatile artisans. The items of their daily use also bear the marks of their ethnicity and aesthetic excellence. The Nagas are so artistically inclined that they even decorate their weapons. Even if you look at the bamboo drinking pots, you would find beautiful motifs on those; you could also not miss out the impressive wood carvings found on the doorways of Naga houses. But when it comes to textiles, Nagaland has carved a niche for itself. It is that particular state of India which offers the most unique fabric as compared to the rest of the country. Each and every house of Nagaland has a loom which is a simple tension one. The three most significant industries if this state have been weaving, spinning and dyeing.
The dress materials for daily use are produced with the help of the age old looms by the Naga females and the end product is surely a visual enchantment. The weaving procedure is generally very slow and monotonous and hence, the end products are bit expensive. The clothes worn by the men and women Naga tribes keep varying from one group to another. Around sixteen tribes can be distinguished on the basis of the distinctive design and color combination of their attire. These tribes are Angami, Konyak, Ao, Sema, Chakesang, Lotha, Phom, Zeilang, Chang, Mokware, Kheimungan, Sangtam, Yimchunger, Rengma, Tikhir and Chirr. Let us now focus on the details pertaining to the textiles of Nagaland.
Spinning Technique of Nagaland
The women folk of Nagaland mainly engage in the spinning of textiles. A woman generally spins the clothes of her family members. It had been a custom in Nagaland that every girl who attains the age of marriage, should be able to spin and weave. In fact, many little girls are found playing with toy looms and making experiments with weaving. Generally the process of spinning is simple and with the use of some very simple tools it gets done successfully. After being cleaned off its seeds, the cotton gets rolled gently by hands using a round stick on a flat stone. Cotton gets rolled just like sausages. The typical Naga spindle is a primitive device and spinning is quite a time-consuming task.
Dyeing Technique of Nagaland
It is the process that follows the transfer of the yarn into the skeins. Recently the trend of using indigenous colors has been replaced by the use of chemical dyes since the former is found to fade away. The popular colors used by the Naga folks are dark blue and red; yellow is seldom used. The entire process of dying is mainly executed by the women folk. The universal blue dye used by the Nagas is obtained from the leaves of Strobilanthes flaccidifolius, a plant that grows randomly at the outskirts of the rural areas or in the clusters cleared in dense forests. The way the blue dye is prepared and used by the different Naga tribes keeps varying from one another. The cloth meant to be dyed gets dipped into the color and gets boiled for an hour. After that it is dried in the sun. In case, the color does not get settled properly, this process gets repeated a few more times.
Red Dye Technique of Nagaland
The red dye is used but less frequently than the blue one. Being the color of blood red is prepared by the women with the superstition that it could result in her dying a violent death. Thus, only the elderly women are found to dye the yarns in red dye. The Lotha tribe thinks that since old womena re of lesser value to the community, the so-called risky occupation of preparing the red dye would be suitable for the aged ladies.
Yellow Dye Technique of Nagaland
The yellow dye is prepared by only a handful of tribes. The yellow dye is prepared by the Angami tribe from the wood of a plant named ‘athuo’. The wooden portion of that plant has a light yellow shade naturally. First the bark of the plant gets removed and then it is sliced in chips whicha re subsequently boiled in water with the help of thread. After boiling, the thread is taken out and dried in the sun. The Rengma tribe prepares the yellow dye from the flowers of a tree. It is also to be noted that among the Naga tribes, the use of colors is strictly prohibited before harvest since that process could somehow damage the crops.
Weaving Technique of Nagaland
A unique feature f Nagaland is that here, the important processes in the textile production, namely spinning and weaving are done by the women as contrary to the practice found in the other Indian states where men are found to do these. Weaving is found to begin with the first fruit of the new rice is consumed. The Naga loom is often called the Indonesian tension loom and is comprised of a back strap with a continuous warp that contains six sticks which function like the warp beam, stick, lease rod, beating sword and extra warp beam.
The weaving specimens hailing from the various Naga districts bear a huge range and number in terms of designs. The unique apparels and costumes include wrappers, waist cloth, shawl, girdles, scarves, aprons, skirts and many more. An expert weaver would take nearly ten hours to complete a plain strip and for weaving a complete cloth not less than thirty hours would be required. The most unique feature of a Naga shawl is that three separate pieces are woven and then stitched together. The central strip is found to be the most adorned one as compared to the other two.
Cloth Painting in Nagaland
Painting on cloth is a practice found amongst a few tribes like the Aos, Lothas and Rengmas. The Ao are found to paint the famous white band of their warrior shawl which can be donned by only those who have taken heads in a battle or have performed merit feasts. On the white median band, figures like elephant, dao spear and human heads which are painted black. The sap of a tree is used to prepare the color and it is then mixed with rice beer and the ashes of the leaves of the same tree. The ash of bamboo leaves result in a grey liquid which can be applied with the help of the sharp edge of a bamboo stick. Generally the old men are found to do the paintings.
Symbols And Designs of Naga Textiles
The Nagas are very particular about the costumes that they don on social ceremonies and occasions. The design patterns and color keep varying between the tribes and also at times between the different villages. The most traditional designs and motifs include stripes, straight lines, bands and squares, all varying in color, width and arrangement. Naga women are expert in choosing color combinations.
The designs of Naga textiles keep varying from one tribe to another. The variation in designs with regard to the specific tribal community is discussed below.
Ao Technique of Nagaland
The chief characteristic cloth of the Ao is the adorned warrior shawl by the name Tsungkotepsu. It is a typical ale shawl that is donned by only those who have taken heads in battles or those who have performed merit feasts as performed in the Naga society by the wealthy men. Generally, the cloth has a dark base where a median white band is found on either side along with horizontal bands in the contrasting shades of black and red. The median band is painted in black where figures like tiger and elephant representing the bravery of men, mithun representing the wealth of the owner and human head representing the success reaped in head-hunting and other objects like cock, spear and dao.
Another shawl that is donned on festive occasions mainly by the wealthy men and their sons and daughters is the Aomelep su where the dyed red hairs of dogs are found to be woven at regular intervals so that the shawl looks bushy in certain areas. Alternate strips of red, black and yellow are used to weave these shawls. One of the most decorative Ao cloth is the Rongsu shawl. It is extremely difficult to be able to earn the right of wearing it. In fact, this shawl can be worn only by that male individual whose grandfather and father have performed the famous mithun sacrifice and also if the individual himself has performed the same. Tabensa su, Tiongkong su, Lungkhum subang, Bangmerem su and Keyi su are the other shawl variants.
Typical Ao woman’s skirt consists of a cloth with a length of one and a quarter meter. The various Ao skirts include Azu jangnup su which are mostly red and black striped ones with little yellow along with black stripes, Yongzujangau or skirt woven with cucumber seed on a black background in red and Ngami su or the fish tail skirt.
A huge variety of shawls can be found amongst the Yimchunger Nagas. Rongkhim is one of the most stunning shawls which can be worn only by a renowned warrior. The red color found in that shawl represents the blood of the enemy. If a man who is not a warrior is found to don this shawl, he is believed to die of leprosy. In the order of merit, Kechinger Ronfkhim is the warrior shawl of second rate honor. A man who has taken the right hand of the enemy can wear this shawl. This shawl is a black cloth having two narrow grey bands at the two edges. Tsungrem khim is an exclusive female shawl. Sangkonglim khim or long drum shawl is that one particular shawl which can be worn by both the male and the female Yimchunger Nagas without any restriction. Amerthre khim is the beautiful Yimchunger shawl which can be worn exclusively by the individual who had killed a tiger. A wealthy Yimchunger tribal man wears Rehuke khim or cowrie which is the most important cloth for him. The shawl for a common man is a black one by the name Aneadk Khim. Again Mokhok Khim is a simple white shawl devoid of any design that can be worn by both the men and the women.
Among the Yimchunger tribe, the women folk are found to wear two categories of skirt, as mentioned below:
(a) Kechingperu khim is one type of skirt which is given to a child when she requires one. This skirt is a white cloth bearing narrow black and red bands at normal intervals; these bands keep alternating with white.
(b) Langa Imjung, also called Alongza khim is a skirt donned only by the wealthy women.
The symbols and designs found in the textiles of the Sangtam tribes are somewhat wimilar to the ones found amongst the Aos and the Yimchungers. The famous Sangtam Rongsu is a warrior shawl which no ordinary individual can wear. You ould find four grey band on the top of a cloth on a black base and four more bands of the same shade at the bottom. Supong is a decorative shawl of the Sangtam tribe which can be worn by the wealthy men. The Sangtam tsingrang su is a special shawl for the aristocratic Sangtam men.
Weaving has been practiced less in Sema villages as compared to the other neighboring tribes. However, in recent years the Sema women are found to produce shawls and skirts which are greatly being appreciated both inside and outside Nagaland
for their delicate vibrant patterns.
Akhum, the most common Sema cloth is black with three or four red bands. It can be found to be adorned with various designs and is generally worn by wealthy men. Avi-kiyi-phi is a cloth worn by the Sema warriors of substance. This cloth may also be worn by a rich Sema who has offered the feast of merit by slaying mithun. Avi-kiyi-phi is a white cloth having nine white bands at regular intervals.
Among the Konyaks, only a few variety of clothes can be found. The elderly people of the village are found to wear a remarkable shawl called nye-myon while attending important meetings and conferences. Nikola is a white shawl worn by women. In the middle portion of this shawl, a pair of narrow black lines can be found at a distance of nearly 4 cms and in between these two lines a lozenge pattern is woven in red. A wealthy Konyak woman wears a vibrant and good-looking shawl called shatni. On his daughter’s marriage, a rich man is found to present a shatni which she preserves during her lifetime. This shawl is later used to wrap her body after she dies. Meyni is the aristocratic shawl which is used by the chieves and the elders among the Konyak tribe. Nyauni, which is a combination of red bands and red lines, is worn by the rich Konyaks.
The Angamis form one of the biggest Naga tribal communities. The people belonging to this community who are generally hardworking and handsome, have been living mainly on the products out of the prolific terraced fields since a few generations before along the hilly slopes carrying out hunting. The women belonging to this tribe are expert weavers. In the absence of field works, they hae often been found sitting at their looms for a couple of hours. Although the women are found to wear a variety of cloth patterns, mainly they wear Loramhoushu or the one having white with red and black bands and lohe having black with red and yellow bands. Phichu-pfe is that distinctive cloth among the Angamis which is worn by the priest. Ratapfe is a black shalw which is worn commonly by men and women as casual wears. Kilt which is a plain black cloth is generally worn by men. It has the embroidery made with cowries in three to four lines. The usual dress of the Angami women consists of neikhro or a petticoat, vatchi or a sleeveless bodice and pfemhou which is a white skirt.
Quite a few varieties of clothes is worn by the Ze-liangs-rong which is a mixed group of Zemis, Liangmais and Rongmei, as evident from the very name of the community. The usual pattern is a white cloth with six black bands at both the edges. The black bands keep varying in their sizes. The skirts of the Zemei are white with a thin black and red border. The women make shawls and skirts from cotton grown in home and the color of the attire is either white or beige. These have black bands of different widths along the border which are separated by pink and red borders. The popular skirt worn during dancing is black in color with a wide and a red border embroidered elaborately and also three white median bands with a narrow red line in the middle.
The usual shawl of the Lotha tribe is known as Sutam. It is a white cloth having wide dark blue horizontal stripes ad is worn by boys and men who have not performed social ‘gennas’.Phangrhup is the shawl which can be worn by men who have performed the first social genna. However no particular shawl is assigned to be worn after performing the second social genna. Ethasu is a cloth worn by the southern Lothas after performing the third social genna. A man who has dragged a stone and has completed a series of social genna wears the handsome cloth by the name eshamsu. Among the Lotha tribe, the skirt of an unmarried girl is a plain dark blue. A girl wears a pretty skirt called loroesu, on her marriage which is dark blue with big squares of narrow white and red lines so that it has a tartan effect. After her husband drags a stone, she may change over to a skirt by the name lungpensu.
A huge variety of patterns can be found in the clothes worn by the Rengma tribe. A man whio has not yet been able to offer any feast of merit or even take the head of his enemy can only wear an ordinary cloth called rhikho. It is a white cloth having four thin black bands. This cloth is worn by both the young and old. A dark blue cloth with a very wide median band having a thin zigzag pattern embroidered in red at the edges is a kind of cloth for which no ritual is required. It is called the Moyet tsu and is mainly a young man’s cloth. The rich men wear alungtsu is a cloth. Teri Phiketsu is a Rengma shawl of significane since for it the performance of head-hunting ceremony is imperative.
Like all the other tribes, the Phom Nagas also differentiate the patterns of their cloth on the basis of the social status of the person who wears it. Vihe-ashak is the ordinary white cloth and Nempong-ashak is the dark blue called cloth meant for casual wear. Phom fanet is the cowrie shawl which is worn by a man who has offered feast of merit. Henyu is a handsome cloth and is a red shawl having narrow white horizontal bands at regular intervals. It is generally worn by the wealthy men. In recent years, this particular cloth has been selected as the national cloth of the Phom community ans the restrictions no longer exist. Phom shungnang is the skirt which is worn by the Phom women. A phom shungnang is a black cloth having a pair of prominent stripes running parallel to each other where each bears five thin red lines. Again shaka is the skirts worn by the wives and the daughters of the rich Phom tribal people.