Reviving an age-old tradition of weaving

Worth the effort Though the traditional loin loom produces less quantity than the shuttle loom, the quality delivered is far superior Ninglun Hanghal

Nagaland’s famed loin looms are attempting a comeback

Weaving with the use of the traditional loin loom is a skill and occupation that is passed down generations among women in tribal communities in the North-East of the country. Even as women are engaged in cultivation, weaving is a secondary occupation, with every household owning a traditional loom.

Though women or girls may not necessarily undergo training in weaving, the skills are learnt through lived experiences and by participating in the activity from an early age while assisting their mothers or elders.

Traditionally, the loin loom has an economic significance as well and forms an important part of the socio-culture of tribal societies. But unfortunately, over the years, loin looms have been slowly disappearing and so is the weaving skill. “The younger generation no longer has the skill nor the knowledge as weaving is not done in their homes,” says Sonnie Kath, Co-Founder of Exotic Echo Society, an organisation that is engaged in reviving the skill.

Showcasing tradition

Exotic Echo Society primarily focuses on bringing back the tradition through empowerment of traditional weavers while training and exposing them to festivals and exhibitions. The attempt is also to provide a sustainable livelihood to hundreds of unemployed rural women with special emphasis on young women, mostly school dropouts.

Recently Diezephe village in Dimapur, Nagaland, organised a festival to showcase Naga loin loom weaving. Textiles, designs, and other hand-crafted products were exhibited to bring the work of over 50 Naga women into the public domain for designers and women group representatives to see. The event also discussed issues pertaining to preservation of the art, promotion and enhancement of livelihood through the tradition.

The festival explored how the tradition could be protected through indigenous property rights and knowledge and mechanism to fight for copyrights. It needs mention in this context that in recent years the Naga shawl has been under the process of being registered under the Geographical Indication (GI) Act to ensure that similar products manufactured in any other parts of the world cannot be sold as Naga shawls.

The festival was hosted and organised by Exotic Echo Society. “Even as women want to earn a living through weaving, they are without the skills. And marketing and selling their produce is a challenge,” says Kath, who registered her organisation in 2008 and has since been working to resurrect the dying loin loom and help women find a sustainable livelihood.

Looking towards exports

Weaving primarily disappeared from many parts of the North-East due to several reasons. With cheaper cloth making, weaving no longer provided women a livelihood. The onslaught of modern technology in the textile industry took its toll on the traditional trade. Cheap ready-made garments flooded the North-East markets — a lot of it coming in from Thailand, China and others countries in the neighbourhood.

This is where organisations such as Exotic Echo Society come in. With new designs, relevant garments and a willingness to explore the export market, they hope to take products created on the loin loom to distant free markets.

Traditional weaving is not merely about making an apparel or a dress. It involves an elaborate process. Exotic Echo Society begin their work from the root. Cotton growing on a large-scale was initiated in rural Nagaland. This is the cotton that is further processed into yarn and dyed using local organic herbs and leaves. It is then made ready for weaving.

Though the traditional loin loom is time-consuming and produces less quantity than the shuttle loom, the quality delivered is far superior.

“Modern technology such as shuttle looms are meant for mass production, but our loin looms have perspective and ideology,” says Kath. “It is quality production that is eco-friendly and sustainable”.

On the positive side, in recent times, the demand for loin loom products and hand-made items is picking up.

“People have begun to prefer quality products and appreciate the work. We have our own niche buyers. It’s gaining momentum,” Kath says.

Over 200 women weavers in Diezephe village alone are members and associated directly or indirectly with the Exotic Echo Society. They work at home in their own space and time. The Society helps in networking and marketing its produce both within the country and abroad.

At Exotic Society the weavers do not limit themselves to producing only tribal shawls or other products with traditional designs. “We also make modern fashionwear, apparels, bags, cushion covers and lots more” adds Kath. She is hopeful that thousands of looms will bloom in the future.

The writer is a Manipur-based journalist

Published on January 11, 2019

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