Displaying vanishing traditions

Displaying vanishing traditions

Off late, Northeasterners has made the news for all the wrong reasons. However, a short exhibition which truly reflected the Northeastern essence and captured the dying craft of the seven sister states was recently held at the India International Centre.

Unlike other exhibitions which usually showcase popular craft traditions, this time the focus was on dying traditions and was curated by Sentila T. Yanger, founder, Tribal Weave. The exhibition had craftspersons from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura who gave demonstrations and displayed rare and fading craft forms from their respective states.

The availability of cheaper alternatives and modernity have given way to the fading status of several traditional activities that were someday part of the daily lives. Sentila too blames the easy availability of synthetic items and eroding skilled craftsmen for extinction of arts. “The skill base is vanishing as the younger lot wants to go out, study and look for other opportunities. So, this exhibition is to draw attention and highlight the fragile status of vanishing craft traditions,” says the founder.

The captivating part was the live demonstrations of the artifacts. One of the most interesting demonstrations was the making of Shuguchethang, also called as handmade paper. Made of Shugu Sheng plant, it is a very lengthy process. The branches of the tree are peeled off into very fine layers, then engaged in a process of cooking and pounded into a pulp. This pulp is then washed extensively with water and spread over a net and left for drying.

Another interesting product was the making of Enhi - protective body covers for all seasons. A very taxing procedure, it takes 3-4 days for an artisan to complete one Enhi. These covers have been used for generations by the Chakhesang community and are made from tender leaves of a local species of wild palm.

The exhibition was held under the aegis of Tribal Weave, an organisation set up with the aim to promote Naga heritage and support artisans in rural areas through training, skill development and facilitate marketing of craft-based products. Sentila says, “Weavers have been encouraged and awareness is being created on this inherent craft tradition which advocates its value addition in Northeast crafts. So, this is for those who don’t know about all these dying arts and help us revive these unusual artifacts.”

Other attractions were Hrui Rhual, also called as rope crafting by Darlongs who are known as the experts in rope making. Also showcasing was Bell Metal craft and Akukhie Ngunu Kuto, which means cotton processing of the Pochury Naga.

Lastly, Tsungo Tep Su, which can also be called as painted on cloth with Tangkotzu. It is a decorative warrior shawl made with a paint derived from the sap of the tangko tree mixed with ash from the burned leaves of the tree and mixed with a little rice beer. It was truly an effortless initiative showing all the efforts taken by the craftsmen in a bid to revive their lost traditions!

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