Top 5 Craft Forms From the Land of North East | Art & Culture | Nelive

Top 5 Craft Forms From the Land of North East

Jul 18, 2015 16:24
North East

The North East is lushly green and it is bamboo country. With so many natural resources available, it is to be expected that the people of this region should excel in arts and crafts that are inspired by nature and make use of natural products. Each state has its specialty and craft is ingrained into the lifeblood of the 200 and odd tribes inhabiting this region. For example, Nagaland is best known for its exquisite bamboo creations. However, bamboo is not the exclusive preserve of this state. Mizoram, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Manipur too have their share of bamboo craft. Hand woven textiles are another area in which craftsmen from the North East excel. The North East craftsmen also excel in carpet making, brass cutting, silver ware, pottery, wood carving and leatherwork. 



All five states of the North East have tribes excelling in making diverse use of bamboo. Practiced since centuries, the art of transforming bamboo into highly decorative and useful creations is of the highest order and one can see exquisite articles made of bamboo and cane. Craftsmen of this region excel in creating baskets to store paddy and water, vessels for water, plates, hats, bows, arrows, headgear, shoulder bags, ornaments and necklaces. Not only are the bamboo articles created with painstaking skill, they are also coloured and polished to a high degree of perfection using natural vegetable based materials. The tribes of Arunachal excel in bamboo basketry and headgear. Those of Assam specialise in umbrellas, fishing implements, cane products for domestic use, mats and furniture. Manipur tribes are known for exquisite cane and bamboo effigies, musical instruments and headgear. Meghalaya tribes create large containers, baskets, furniture, trays, weapons and smoking pipes. 




Tribes in the North East, especially those of Tripura, are known for their expertise in handloom weaving and mostly use cotton as the raw material to weave thick fabrics used for turbans and lower garments. Nagaland tribes use primitive looms that are slow but the fabrics they create are quite different in design. In each Naga tribe family the female members are expected to know how to spin and weave. Fabrics were usually dyed using natural colours but synthetic colours have replaced them. Yarn may be dyed before spinning and fabrics are also painted with various designs. The warrior shawl is symbolic of the Aos tribe with strong red, blue and black geometric patterns. The Angami Nagas are known to crate distinctive shawls and kilts. Manipuris excel in textiles too and associate weaving with a cosmic process according to Meitei legends. Traditionally, girls of the Meitei, thangkhul, Kuki and Kabui tribes excelled in textile weaving. Manipuri embroidery and textile design is quite different from the ornate Indian styles as can be seen in the Likli, Shamilami, Leirum and chum designs variously employing bottles, animals and butterflies. While most of the North East tribes mainly use cotton, the tribes of Meghalaya comprising of the Khasis, Jaintias and Garos excel in using silk as the material. The Sonidan tribe, especially excels in endi silk.  Assam is another state where use of silk predominates with the Eri and Muga types being the fabrics of choice for Assamese ladies. The tribes weave silk fabrics with simple geometric designs while some use motifs based on the life of Lord Krishna and scenes from Ramayana. The Bodos, Dimasa Kachchari, Mech Kachchari, Aitunia and Thai Phakes each have their distinctive style of textile designs and fabrics. In recent times the unique designs of North East textiles have caught the attention of fashion designers for the simple yet bold looks. 



Pottery is another craft widespread throughout the North East. Manipur, in particular excels in the craft of pottery that also has legends associated with it.  This state and its tribes excel in earthenware pottery such as blackware, greyware and redware pottery. Once the clay items are fired, they are coated with a liquid prepared from the bark of a tree. The Nungi village people produce glossy black pottery whereas the Oinam village people manufacture pottery in dull black colour. Andro, Nangpok, Chairel and Thongajao villages manufacture red pottery. Some tribes in Nagaland handshape clay into various pots and fire the pots to bake them. Most pottery made in Nagaland traditionally was inspired by textile designs. In Arunachal Pradesh pottery craft is usually handled by the Dafla women, usually in a hand made process without the use of the potter’s wheel. When dry the pots are fired but these are rarely polished or glazed and most of the pots are used for cooking and storage purposes. 



Wood Carving

Wood carving is another area in which the tribes of North East excel. The Monpas, Khamtis, Phom, Wanchos and Konyak tribes use wood carving to create wood work for decorative and functional purposes. The Monpas, however, excel in creating beautifully carved cups, dishes, fruit bowls and ceremonial masks made from a single block of wood. The Morungs of Nagaland carve wood into decorative pieces to grace the dormitories of young unmarried men, carvings for funerary procedures and effigies of the dead while the Wanchos and Konyaks exhibit high levels of art and refinement in their carvings. Log drums are also carved out of wood by the Aos and other tribes, sometimes using a large, single log from the trunk of a huge tree to make the drum. 


Weapons and Musical Instruments

The tribes of the North East live a full life. Agriculture and hunting was as much a part of their lives as were wars, dancing and music. The tribes of Meghalaya in particular are known for manufacturing a range of musical instruments. The Dama is one such drum manufactured by the garo tribes. It is about 4 to 5 feet length and carved out of single piece of wood with tapering ends. The Kram is an even larger drum, both ends covered with hide and it is never taken out of the owner’s house. Garos also specialise in making bamboo flutes like the Otokra, a 3 feet long  flute with only two finger holes whereas the Illongma is a smaller one with three steps and the Bangsi is even smaller. The gongmina is a type of harp made of thin strips of bamboo. The Garos also use trumpets made of buffalo horn and gongs made of brass or metal plates, usually played during festivals and dances. The Nagas too have their brand of trumpets made of buffalo horns and drums made of wood. Blacksmithy is also part of the life of the warrior like Angamis who use their art to create knives, spears, dao, axe and sickles used for battle and for hunting. The tribes are also fond of body ornaments and crafting ornaments is one of their skills. They use gold and silver along with coral and beads to create ornaments like crowns, ear rings, bracelets, metal bands and necklaces for men and women. The Naga tribes are known for their skill in using broken glass pieces to create necklaces of raw beauty as well as bangles made from elephant tusks and ornaments made using cowrie shells. The tribes of Arunachal, on the other hand, specialise in using wax to make moulds from which ornaments are made using brass or gold and silver as the material. The earthy and simple designs are now proving popular elsewhere too. 


Jul 18, 2015 16:24
North East

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