In this concluding part on Nagaland, the writer Prasanta Paul dwells on the variety of art and craft of the state which is unique in its own way
Nagas start life ‘in a cradle of bamboo and end in a coffin of bamboo,’ goes a popular proverb in the state.
The forests of Nagaland are rich in bamboo and cane, which invariably speak for for Nagas’ unmatched experience in the art and manufacture of baskets.
Though this tradition of basket manufacturing is highly developed among the Nagas, the craft is restricted to all men. All well-built Naga men have the expertise to weave mats of split bamboo which is the principal raw material besides woods for constructing walls and floors of houses.
Very important is the art of manufacturing of finely woven mats for drying paddy. They also prepare with bamboo and cane different kinds of armchairs, sofas, tables and cradles for babies.
Apart from baskets, Nagas make a wide variety of mats, shields and different kinds of hats from bamboo. In fact, they make beautify chungas or drinking cups and mugs made of bamboo with pokerwork.
The most important species of bamboo found in Nagaland are Dendroclamus Homiltonii, from which the best type of splints for manufacturing of baskets is extracted.
Bambusa bamboo is the best suited for house construction, while Melocana Bamboo Soides, is suitable for making floor and walls of a Naga house.
The Chang Naga crossbow is a powerful weapon made of bamboo, wood, fibre, and bone. It is made of a thick and strong bamboo beam, wider at the centre than at the ends, held in a slot in the wooden crossbeam.
Small decorative combs of bamboo splits are made by Chang men as gifts for girls. The Konyak Naga men wear a tight cane belt around their waists. These are made of half splits of cane wound around the waist in about seven or eight loops.
Adults wear the belt and once it is worn, it is not removed till death; such is the prevailing custom.
Nagas also make many traditional musical instruments out of bamboo, buffalo horns and mithun horns. The most prominent among them are flute, trumpet, mouth organ and cup violin.
All tribes make picturesque cane craft comprising bowls, mugs, and containers with multi-coloured engravings on them. Other varieties such as fillets as part of ornamentation, have elaborately worked-out designs.
Nagas also wear a lovely rain-proof hat made of cane. Men of some tribes weave very attractive neck bands, armlets and leggings from fine strips of cane, dyed red and stems of the yellow orchid in combination with cowries.
Mats woven out of cane strings with fine textures have decorative value. Cane furniture is also quite popular. Cane ornaments such headbands, bangles, leg-guards etc constitute other models of workmanship.
Baskets are usually of two kinds, one to be kept in the house for storage purposes and the other to be carried on the back for day-t-day use. Baskets of very fine designs are in wide range with different shapes and sizes, used for different purposes.
The Nagas are versatile artisans; types of clothes worn by them differs from one Naga group and clan to another. Spinning, dyeing, weaving are performed by women and every Naga woman is supposed to weave the clothes of her family.
Only the Lothas, Aos, and Rengmas practice painting on clothes. The Ao art of painting resembles that of the Rengmas, although the conventional pattern is different.
Aos paint the white band of their famous warrior shawl which can only be worn by one who has taken heads in war or who has performed feats of merit.
Figures of elephant, tiger, cock, dao spear and human heads are painted in black on the white median band. The colour is prepared from the sap of a tree which is then mixed with very strong rice beer and the ash of its own leaves. Sometimes, the ash of bamboo leaves is used in place of Tangko leaves.
Naga designs vary from a formal arrangement of lines to elaborate patterns in different shapes. Simple straight lines, stripes, squares and bands, varying in width, colour and management are the most traditional designs and motifs.
The Naga shawls are very famous. They come in bright colours and various patterns. The decorative warrior shawls known as Tsungkotepsu is one of the most characteristics clothes of the Aos.
Nagaland Rongsu shawl is one of the most decorative Ao clothes. The right to wear this cloth is the most difficult to earn as it can be worn only by a man who has performed the mithun sacrifice feast and whose father and grandfather have also done it.
The other shawl consists of Tiongkong su, Tabensa su, Lungkhum subang, Keyi su, and Bangmerem su.
Though pottery is not widely practised in Nagaland, some tribal woman do practise it and have their own unique method of making pottery with hands.
The techniques, however, vary according to the tribes and the geographical areas they inhabit. The most peculiar feature of Naga pottery is that the designs and motifs have been inspired by the designs of other textiles.
Also Read: The Tribes & Culture of Nagaland (Part –I)
Traditionally, both sexes enjoy wearing colourful ornaments. Naga warriors wear miniature trophy masks as pendants in necklaces. They are symbolic of their bravery as headhunters.
Broken tumblers of thick glass are turned into ornaments for the ear and colourful glass beads are strung on cords of local fibres fastened by coins. The different coloured beads in indigo, orange and purple, blend well with other ornaments.
Naga bracelets and bangles are exquisite. Sawed from the wide end of tusks, they are then shaped and stained to bring out the superb grain of ivory and rubbed against the wearer’s skin until the inner edges take on a jewel—like transparency.
Shells are also an inseparable part of Naga culture and they are used to make different ornaments.
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The author has served no less than Al Jazeera and German TV, and India’s Parliamentarian magazine among others! To his credit goes a deep-rooted empathy for social issues and humans. He has wide experience in covering the northeast of India. His coverage on the 2020 Amphan cyclone in eastern India has easily been the best around the world