On Proud Shoulders
Nagaland, a hill state in northeastern India bordering Myanmar, and home to 16 major tribes belonging to the indo mongoloid ethnic group, has a rich tradition of hand-woven shawls.
Made of bamboo and wood, the backstrap loom has two parallel bamboo ends. One is attached to a wall or any other suitable place, and the other to a leather strap that is worn around the weaver s lower back. As the loom is light and adaptable, the weaver can attach it to a tree and weave outdoors as well. The warp threads are tied to the two bamboo stalks and when the women weave they lean against the leather strap to keep the warp threads well stretched, polished bamboo sticks are used for creating the shed in the warp threads. Weft yarns are passed across the warp and are pushed in place with a wooden stick to create a neat weave.
A Creative Pattern
As the back strap loom is small, the textile woven in narrow. To obtain the required breadth of a shawl, two or three lengths are woven. The most elaborate panel is placed in the centre and the lengths are joined with decorative stitches. Most of the designs woven on the shawls are vertical stripes single stripes along either edge parallel stripes, patterned bands incorporating colour changes and motif, with an overall effect of visual symmetry. The stripes may be edged with a contrasting colour yarn to highlight them. They may also include small geometric motifs created with extra weft threads, which do not appear on the reverse. In some shawls, weft flats are worked in sections for decorative effect, which also give the shawl a ribbed texture. After weaving, the warp threads may be twisted and knotted to hang as tassels or they may be neatly stitched up.
Use According To Colour
The representative Naga shawl is a textile of striking colours such as white, red, blue, yellow and green are used. In the past, colours for dyeing the yarns were obtained from vegetable sources such as flowers, roots, leaves, berries and yarn was dyed at home but now ready made coloured yarn, dyed with synthetic dyes is bought for weaving.
The simple black shawl with coloured stripes is worn as a sack on the wearer's back to carry infants along the hill slopes. However, there are many Naga shawls that bear specific patterns. Shawl motifs are indicative of the tribe the wearer belongs to and may also indicate the person's social status. The Nagas being a martial people, each tribe traditionally had a special shawl that was only worn by a victorious warrior.
In some tribes, the warrior's wife wore a special shawl such as the Tiger shawl woven with fine blue lines on a blue-black ground. There is another shawl, which is only worn by a man whose family has observed a particular feast for three generations. Functional and attractive, these shawls have fulfilled the physical and cultural needs of the people of Nagaland for generations and, despite changes in their lifestyle, they continue to be woven and worn with pride even today.