Re­viv­ing an age-old tra­di­tion of weav­ing

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, Co­Founder 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 Though the tra­di­tional loin loom pro­duces less quan­tity than the shut­tle loom, the qual­ity de­liv­ered is far su­pe­rior 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.

Worth the ef­fort NINGLUN HANGHAL

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