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.
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.
Weapons and Musical Instruments