Traditional Method Of Making Clothes Of The Zeliangrong

Material culture has two distinct but inseparable aspects. One aspect is the utilitarian side; it deals with the fulfillment of wants for biological livelihood of man, and its finish products appear different from place to place depending upon the natural conditions including the availability of raw materials. These products are, at the same time, the results of reason and can be considered as scientific inventions, and the method including the machines of their production is termed as technology. The second aspect does refer to the ideational side of human activities that satisfy the mental and the social needs of mankind are affected by means of the technology. This means to say that the idea of satisfying human psycho-social desires is inherent in the technology.

Now, as it does stand in this way, technology is an inseparable part of culture. Only because it is embodied in concrete, material form, technology has to be considered to be the material form of culture, which together with its non-material, abstract counterpart does form cultural holism. Therefore, for the study of a culture in its material form, the study of its associated technology is indispensible. The present article attempts to delve into the traditional methods of making clothes of the Zeliangrong.

The necessity to conceal the naked body or to enhance the body appearance (modesty) and to protect from the natural forces is presumed to be the primary factor which led to the invention of cloth among mankind. In the beginning, men extensively used both animal and vegetable products in making clothing. The simplest articles of clothing and perhaps the first to be used by men is probably the robe or untailored cloth made from the skin of a large animal. Even this simple garment, however, requires considerable processing, for an untreated or raw hide becomes stiff and hard as soon as it dries. The skin must be thoroughly scraped to remove the fat and flesh which adhere to it. Then, it must be softened. The hide is softened only by mechanical techniques, such as alternately wetting and beating the hide until it is flexible. Mechanically soften hides, however, are not permanently cured, for if they become wet again the whole process must be repeated. Better curing is achieved by rubbing the hide with fatty or oily substance while it is being manipulated mechanically. Another way of utilizing animal materials for clothing is to employ the hair or wool. A central Asiatic people, probably the ancestors of the present Mongols, developed the techniques of felting. In one method, wool or hair is combed out and placed in layers on a mat. Water is sprinkled on the material and the mat rolled up as tightly as possible. It then may be beaten with a stick. At the end of this time the hairs or wool fibers have become thoroughly matted. After patting, stretching, and sometimes repeated- rolling, the resulting felt is light, warm and durable. In due course of time, the cloths made from hide of animals or bark of trees was replaced by the fabrics. This development denotes the change of man’s life from his nomadic to settled life.

Textile is a fabric made by weaving. This term comes from a Latin word texture, which means to weave. Fabric can be classified into two: natural fibers and man-made fibers. Natural fibers are obtained from both plants and animals. The major natural fibers are cotton, flax, wool and silk. Man-made fibers are manufactured from animal, plant, mineral, or synthetic substances some man-made fibers are rayon, fiber, glass, nylon, polyester, acrylic, olefin and spandex.

History of Textile:

The art of textile making began to develop in the Old Stone Age, the period before 9000 B.C. The first textile fabric was probably a crude felt, made by compressing loose clumps of flues from wild sheep. It was the Chinese, the first technologically advanced people who used it for the first time. Later, pre-historic people discovered that they could make a coarse yarn by rolling plant or animal fibers between the palms of the hands. Fishing nets were the earliest known textile made from yarn. And the art of weaving yarn into fabric probably developed from the art of weaving strips of material into mats and baskets. The Middle East people began to weave cloth on simple looms between 5000 and 3000 B.C. By about 2000 B.C., weaving had developed in Europe, Asia, and South America. A mesh fabric resembling knitting, was probably made by 1000 B.C. Yarns were spun from most major natural fibers –flax in Europe and the Middle East, cotton in Asia and South America, and wool in Europe. The basic spinning tools were the distaff and spindle. In Asia, silk yarn was made by a process called throwing. By the beginning of the Christian era, many basic finishing treatments such as furling, napping, shearing, bleaching, dyeing, printing and pressing had been developed. The most highly prized fabrics were Chinese silk, Dacca of India cottons, Egyptian linens, and Roman woolens. Thus, in most parts of the World, clothing is as basic human need as food and shelter became a main factor in economic history.

Cotton is one of the most important vegetable fibers. Cotton has been spun, woven and dyed since pre-historic times. It formed the staple clothing of India, Egypt and China. Hundreds of years before the Christian era, cotton textiles were woven in India with matchless skill, and later their use spread to other countries of Mediterranean. Thus, textile manufacturing is one of the oldest industries in India. The Zeliangrong people of North East India have its indigenous origin of this industry since ancient time.

It is fact that handloom is a craft which requires skill with the hands. The Zeliangrong people have this quality. Traditionally every Zeliangrong woman does possess knowledge of weaving except disfigure. It is generally practiced among the Zeliangrongs that a mother has a responsible to teach her daughter the art of weaving from the tender age. Moreover, the girls’ dormitory (Luchiu) in olden days acted as an institution where the growing girls learned the art of weaving. It is a shame for a girl who doesn’t learn and posses the knowledge of weaving after attaining maturity. Weaving is done by the women folk alone is an interesting feature of the industry. In this connection, E.W. Dun says that from plucking of the matured cotton from its plants in the fields to the stage of weaving is all the work of women folk. Therefore, every woman is expected to know the art of weaving and a woman with this knowledge is highly respected in the Zeliangrong society.

Raw material:

The art of weaving begins from the work of separating the cotton seeds from the cotton balls. The cotton plant is extremely –sensitive to weather conditions. It cannot grow in cold climate but thrives in tropical climate. Cotton is grown on a limited scale in Manipur mostly homegrown in small patches with a few plants to meet the minimum requirement of making a few clothes at home. Whatever is grown is neither enough nor of good quality. Presently, cotton plants are seen mostly grown in the hill areas. Among the Meiteis, cotton as well as silk was used in weaving. The cocoon of the Silleima Til (the larva and the caterpillar) that feed on the leaves of the Silleima tree(caleophylum inophylum) and also the cocoon of other worms are said to have been used for producing silk yarn, since the days of yore.

The process of making cloth may be divided into three main stages: (a) preparation of yarn (Lng Loimei), (b) dyeing (Kapaan), and (c) weaving (Phei Dakmei).

Preparation of yarn:

Almost all fabrics –construction processes require that fibers be made into yarns as an intermediate step. The amount and type of processing required depend on a number of fiber properties including length, diameter, strength, tenacity, surface, characteristics, susceptibility to various treatments, and reaction to finishing processes. Processes may be specific for one fiber or common to a number of fibers. Preparatory processes carried out prior to those common to several fibers are termed preprocesses.


Cotton is the shortest spinnable fiber and probably could not be made into yarn were it not for the frequent spiral twists, or convolutions, along its length. Preprocesses for cotton are:

(1) Plucked cottons are exposed to the sun for drying.

(2) Separation of the seeds, the hardened part of cotton from the wooly fibers. This process is called ginning. The apparatus used in this process is called Mui. The ginning is done by two wooden rollers vertically placed one upon the other coupled with a wooden gear at one end and moved in opposite directions. The Mui is supported by two upright wooden pillars. The weaver sets the rollers in motion by means of a crank that fitted to the lower roller. She moves the crank with the right hand while the left feeds the cotton between the rollers, by which process the seeds are pressed out.

(3) The cottons are softened by Lng-pai, a bow like apparatus. It consists of a bow made of bamboo, and cane strip used as the string of the bow and an elongated bamboo basket. The basket is laid on the ground lengthwise and the seedless cotton in the bow is then flicked with fingers of the right hand while the left hand holds the bow. This process of softening the cotton is called carding.

(4) Some carded cotton is taken and spread upon a small flat wooden piece, and a stick made of bamboo about 20 centimeters long as big as a forefinger size is placed over it. The cotton is rolled round the stick by hand and then stick is pulled off, the Lngji is then ready for spinning. This process is known as rolling.

(5) The Lngji is then place to the point of iron rod fitted in the spindle. The spinning tool is locally known as Tareng. The weaver with her left hand does draw out a thread by rotating movement (clockwise) given to the instrument by the right hand, thread drawn from the Lngji round the iron rod when gathered a sufficient quality of thread has to be then removed and coiled round a stick locally known as Tak.

The second stage in the process of cloth making is dyeing. Dyeing is a process of coloring textiles fibers so that the coloring matter becomes an integral part of the fiber.

History of dyeing:

Dyeing is an ancient art. It was practiced in Egypt, Persia, China and India thousands of years before Christ. Little is known about the dyes used in those times, but it is probable that they included madder as a red dye and indigo as a blue dye. In the early days of Roman Empire, the imperial family and the nobility worn the garment dyed with Tyrian purple. It was obtained from the secretion of a selfish. And this dye was extremely valuable as late as the 4th century C.E. Cloth colored with Tyrian purple was literally worth its weight in gold. Dyes that produced various colors were also known to the ancient Chinese, Babylonians, Egyptians and Greeks. In the 13th century, the art of dyeing was stimulated by the discovery of a purple dye, archil, made from a species of lichen. Northern Italy became the centre of dyeing in Europe because where the discovery of lichen was made. During the Middle Ages, dyeing was carried on in the Byzantine Empire, the Near East, and China, but not in Rome. Well-to-do Europeans purchased cloth from the Eastern nations. By the end of the 13th century, the European dyeing industry was revived. In the 16the century, explorers brought back a number of dyestuffs such as cochineal and logwood from the Americans and these new materials were included in the dyers’ art. Among the important natural dyes which were used during the ancient times were quereitron, wild, fustic, brazilwood, safflower and indigo. It is a long known art.

In Zeliangrong society, dyeing is done by the womenfolk. It is generally done either after weaving when the fabric is to be uniform color or in the yarn to get the appropriate colors in case of the cloth is to have strips in the multicolor. This color dyeing reflects taste and customs of the people. Like other Naga tribes, they also had enough knowledge of dyeing in different hue and shades by using natural dye which handed down from generations to generation. The Nagas used dark, blue, red, and rarely yellow dye.

There are two types of dye namely, natural and synthetic dyes. The Zeliangrong followed only the method of natural dyes which obtained from the materials of locally grown plants. They used materials like plantain ash, Acantha cease, lae, garecimala, etc. and wild indigo for black color. T.C. Hudson writes, “They purchase from the plains a bark which gives red color shading to terracotta. Lamp black is also used for the black dye, but the better black shades are obtained from a strong decoction of indigo. The green and yellow or orange shades are produced from the barks of jungle tree.” For dark blue color, a wild plants locally known as Apiu is used. These leaves are pluck by women folk and boiled in a pot in which yarn or cloth is immersed and after five minutes, it is removed and thus, the cloth is dyed in that color, which is exposed again in the sun to dry.

For dyeing black color, the Zeliangrong people use a kind of leaves locally known as Henggcu. These leaves are boiled in a pot and put the cloth to be dyed leaving for about half an hour. It is then, removed and dried it in the sun. The process is repeated if the proper color is not found. In ancient times, the bark of Gaam, a kind of wood was used for black color. They wash the yarns with the liquid made of this bark at least two or three times and make dry. After drying out, the yarns are dipped into the mud of black clay which readily prepared for the purpose for at least two or three days. For red color, the yarns are washed with by alkaline filtered from the ashes of Keihlaeng, a kind of wood and it is mixed with powder of oil seed. The yarns are washed several time for getting proper color and made it dry in the sun. Then, they also use the powder made from Guiluai, a kind of creeper and Saengluang, another shrub for dyeing red color, which is boiled with the yarns at least half an hour for good result. Before dyeing, the yarns are washed and boiled in alkaline water and the same, after washing and cleaning, dyed into different colors according to the wishes of the weaver.

The Angami Nagas prepares red dye from the local creeper known as Tsenyhii. The root, reddish in nature is washed in water and pounded in the fresh state on a flat stone by a wooden hammer. The pounded mass is boiled in required quantity of water in a big pot. In the boiling state, the cloth or thread is dipped and left boiling for nearly an hour. The cloth is then taken out. The Aos obtained red dye from the root of a creeper locally known as Aozy. The root is dried thoroughly pounded and mixed with dry and pounded leaves of a tree called Tangshi. And then again mixed with the dried and pounded husks of an acid berry of a tree called Tangmo in an approximate ratio of Aozy 2: Tangshi 3: Tangmo: 2.

Among the Meiteis, the important colors like blue, black, reddish black and blue black are prepared indigenously. The Kum (strobilanthes sp., family Flaccidifolius) is the main dyeing plant for all the said colors. For preparing these colors, first the leaves of the plant are cut into pieces and soaked in water in two jars with tight lids and then the same jars are exposed in the sun for about one or two weeks. When the leaves are about to rot, the Kum Sunu is added and the liquid is churned till a thorough mixture is achieved with the help of a multipronged fork functioning as the centrifuge rolled between the palms. The foam produced on the surface is collected in a small pot with the help of feathers. The next step is to squeeze the coagulated Kum in the ash water of Khusum Pere. The yarn or cloth is thoroughly wetted and dipped in the liquid. It is taken out of the pot and is properly squeezed. This process is repeated till the desired color is obtained. The liquid is either boiled or the material is kept in the pot for a day or two to get grayish blue color.

For obtaining deep black (cool black), the cloth after dyeing in the Kum liquid is dipped in the liquid infusion of Heikru. For deep black (warm), the fabric or yarn is dyed in the red liquid of Ureirom before it is dipped in the Kum infusion. The color dye in Kum is lasting and the sheen increase when the yarn or cloth is washed. The brown black color is produced without Kum. The fabric or yarn is dipped in the infusion of the bark of the Heikru and the Heining trees along with plastic clay containing iron oxide. For maroon red color, the Ureirom infusion is boiled with gentian red. The cloth or yarn is soaked in the liquid and is then put into the Heibung liquid to increase the sheen of the yarn. It is boiled in the liquid of the Heigri leaves. Pink color is extracted from the petals of the Kusum Lei (Corthamus tinctorius). For pale yellow color, root of turmeric is rinsed clean in water and pounded to pulp, and then put in water. The depth of color dictates the quality of turmeric and the times of dipping. The yarn or fabric is dipped in it at the appropriate time and then dipped in the acidic liquid of Heibung, and is washed in fresh water thoroughly.

In the process of dyeing of coloring the clothes, the Zeliangrong women strictly observe traditional customs and beliefs in order to attain the most lustrous color and particular shades. In olden times, red, yellow and black color clothes were commonly worn. Before harvest, the dyeing of any color was prohibited in the belief that it might affect the crops. Weaving is meant for a woman’s job, it was prohibited during the period of menstruation. And she was not allowed to sleep with her sexual partner in the faith that the husband would not success in the hunting because hunting was also a part of their livelihood. A pregnant woman is tabooed to handle the dye lest the fetus be affected by the color. During the process, they must not eat beef, dog’s flesh, goat’s flesh, dried fish and other food with strong smell. Women skilled in the art of dyeing have always been highly regarded in their respective community. It is also interesting to note that very unlike the Nagas where dyeing is done by all the weavers, the Meitei society confined this monopoly to eight families. This is more like the tradition of the Islanders of Sumba and nearby Savo, Indonesia where dyeing is confined to those of royal or noble birth. Among the Tangkhuls, weaving is confined only to a section of people commonly known to them as Khuiraomi (Khuirao people). They are the people who inhabited the western area of Tangkhul. The main weaving centers are Khampha, Teinem, Phadang, Songran, Tallui, Ngainga etc.

When the dyeing process is completed, a ritual purification is performed in the village. In this ritual, the village priest sanctifies all the weavers with the leaves of a plant locally known as Ramtin, some cotton seeds and a fowl with some sort of religious hymns. After this ritual sanctification, they are permitted to touch the weaving equipments and start the proper weaving process.

Weaving (Phei Dakmei):

Weaving is the final stage in the process of making clothes. Weaving is the textile in which two distinct sets of yarns or threads called the warp and the filling or weft (older woof) are interlaced with each other to form fabric or cloth. The warp threads run lengthways of the piece of cloth, and the weft runs across from side to side. Cloth is woven on a loom, a device for holding the warp threads in place while the filling threads are woven through them. Weft is an old English word meaning “that which is woven”.

History of Weaving:

Primitive people had the knowledge of weaving. Though clothing was first made of the skins of animals and of the leaves of trees, it is evident that spinning and weaving were practiced in the Stone Age. Evidences of this have been found in the lake dwelling of Switzerland, where spindle whorls and fabrics of flax were found among the remains. Later, they began to split bark and tree root fibers into finer fibers that could be woven into cloth like materials. Cloth weaving grew out of basketry, the basic difference being that cloth weaving requires a loom while basket weaving uses stiff fibers. The development of the loom allowed the use of flexible fibers, such as wool, cotton, and linen. Agnes Geijer says that “The earliest illustration of a ground loom appears on the side of flat bowl dated 4000 B.C., found at Badare in Central Egypt. It shows a warp stretched out between two beams which are held in position by four pegs struck in the ground. This same simple ground loom is still used today in several parts of the world.”

According to Encyclopedia Americana, “there is evidence of weaving as early as 4400 B.C. A pottery dish found in a pre-historic Egyptian tomb depicts a primitive loom, which has the essential elements of the modern-day loom. Two weaving tools were also found in the tomb a simple comb like beater and heddle rod, indicating that significant advances had already been made in manipulating the shed.” In ancient Egypt it was the custom to enshroud the dead in woven linen since linen is remarkably durable. In all cultures, the craft was practiced mainly by women. In ancient Phoenicia and Greece, only women and slaves had the skill in hand weaving. In India, in the early Vedic period weaving was entrusted to women and the word sari probably refers to female.

In Asia, weaving antedates recorded history. The Chinese made cloth of fine silk, and in Arabia and Persia fibers were woven of gold and beautifully dyes threads. Other fibers were so highly valued that they were often used for barter. Though few examples of ancient Greek weaving remain, Greek status indicates a superb knowledge of weaving techniques.

The Native American of North and South, was an expert weaver. Their weaving often has religious symbolism and shows a love of nature. These native people valued their cloth highly, and wasted none of it by cutting.

Weaving is the most common method of making cloth in ancient times. Warp yarns were stretched between two beams pegged to the ground or between a tree and the weaver’s waist. By 1000 B.C., weavers were using the warp-weighted looms, a vertical frame with one beam from which weighted warp yarns  were hung, and the vertical two-beam loom, a vertical frame with two beams between which warp yarns were strung. The horizontal loom and the draw loom were invented in the middle Ages, probably in the Orient. The draw loom was horizontal loom with a cord-operated device for raising and lowering the warp yarns separately, making it possible to weave intricate designs. The next major advance was the flying shuttle which was invented in 1773 by John Kay of England. It was a device for moving the shuttle by a set of cords, instead of by hand. In the early part of 1800, Joseph Jacquard of France developed the Jacquard loom, a loom with an automatic mechanism, operated by punched cards, for separately controlling the warp yarns to weave intricate designs. In 1874, English clergyman called Edmund Cartwright invented a workable power loom. Improvements in his design soon made it possible to mass produce fabrics. Since then, power looms have increased in speed, size and versatility. By the 19th century hand weaving almost had become a lost art; however, it is still used by persons in non-industrialized areas, by textile designers, by artists and persons who weave as a hobby.

The skill of weaving is one of the most essential qualifications for being a worthy girl of the Zeliangrong. It is a must for the girls to know the art of weaving in different extra weft designs. The Zeliangrong girls learn the art of weaving from their mothers and their senior ones. The art of weaving is as old as man on earth; skill is still preserved in the society by handing down through the generations from mother to daughter.

Weaving is the process of the making cloth by crossing two sets of thread over and under each other. Many fabrics and blankets, clothing and rugs are woven. Weavers may use thread spun from such natural fibers as cotton, silk and wool. The Zeliangrongs use strong man-made fibers. Narrow strips of almost any flexible material can also be woven. People learnt to weave thousands of years ago with grasses, leafstalk, palm leaves and thin strips of woods before cotton was known.

Ways of making cloths varies from one country to another. In advance countries, many kinds of machine use to make cloth and hence, manufacturing of textile can rapidly produce yarns of cotton cloth woven in many different patterns. But the Zeliangrong and other Naga tribes depend mainly on hand-power equipment for weaving cloth. The weavers create variety of designs definitely far better than the machine do. As the weaving fully does depending on hand power, it takes time.

Types of loom:

A loom is a device or machine for weaving thread or yarn into textile. Looms can be range from very small hand-held frames, to large free-standing handlooms, to huge automatic mechanical device. The Ancient Egyptians and Chinese used looms as early as 4000 B.C. The basic purpose of any loom is to hold the warp threads under tension to facilitate the inter-weaving of the warp threads. The precise shape of the loom and its mechanics may vary, but the basic function is the same.

There are three types of looms in use in Manipur. They are:

(1) Loin-loom or Tension-loom or Back strip-loom

(2) Throw-Shuttle-loom

(3) Fly shuttle-loom

The earliest of these three is the loin-loom. The people probably invented this art of weaving with this loom after producing basket and mat by interlacing pieces of reed, bamboo strips or similar materials at right angles to each other. The yarns taken at perpendicular to the weaver are known as warp and the ones crossing at right angles parallel to the front of the body of the weaver as weft. Weaving on this loom is still in practice among the Nagas. The remaining two machines are mainly used among the valley Meiteis.

The loin loom or back strapped loom is the simplest and commonest technology of weaving among the Zeliangrong and other Naga tribes. It is a handloom and is known by the technical term Indonesian Tension loom. Weaving equipments like Tamben, Tamjin, Tamnukbung, Tangnam, etc. are made from the raw materials like bamboo, wood and leather. Male members help in making the weaving equipments.

Weaving equipments (Loin-loom):

(i). Back strap: Back strap is locally known as Tangnam which is made from the hide of animal. The hide is cut out enough to cover the entire back of the weaver’s hip, having two loops of strong cord at the two ends. It is placed at the back of the weaver and the two loops of cord are hooked to the grooved end of the tension rod. The weaver maintains the tension of the warp by placing her feet, pressing against the foot rest.

(ii). Tension rod: It is a circular wooden rod of a meter in length and 4 cm in diameter. Its ends are grooved to take a back strap. This tension rod is called Tamjin in local dialect. The warp is wound round from the front rod to the tension rod.

(iii). Beating sword: Beating sword is made from a special kind of wood locally known as Ngai. This is made flat pointed at the one end or sometime pointed at both ends depending on the choice of the weaver. The lower edge of the beating sword is straight while the upper edge is curved. Sizes of the beating sword depend on the choice of the weaver, but as the beating sword is wielded by one arm only, its size does not exceed 6 inches in breadth and one meter in length. Zeliangrong people call it Tamben.

(iv). Front rod: It is a circular bamboo bar which is securely tied to the wall of the house or any suitable place to form a support in a horizontal position at a height of about 2 ½ feet from the ground. The length and breadth of circular bar differ according to the size of the warp. Front rod is locally recognized as Tambang.

(v). Designing heddle: It has the shape and length as beating sword but smaller in size. It is made of bamboo and is used for depicting designs. This is locally called Hu Tamben.

(vi). Stretcher: Stretcher is a small flat bamboo used to pierce through the woof on both the edges. It is moved upward every twelve shedding to maintain equal breadth. This stretcher is grooved on both sides so that only the small pointed pins into the woof. This is locally known as Singkap.

(vii). Harness rod: It is a round piece of wood of a meter in length and one cm in diameter. The rod is pointed at the other end and is known as Nhu. This rod is used for lifting a set or group of yarn to form shed with the help of the harness. It is placed in front of the Tamnukbung towards the weaver.

(viii). Circular bamboo rod: This rod has one meter in length and 7 centimeter in diameter. The yarn passing over and under the bamboo makes an opening and this is used as one shedding while the lifting of yarn with the harness rod acted as another shedding. This bamboo is called Tamnukbung.

(ix). Lease rod: It is a circular rod of wood exactly like the harness rod which is placed after the bamboo rod (Tamnukbung). It is a little bit longer than the bamboo rod. This is locally known as Rai. It checks the yarn from getting entangle.

(x). Wax: Diuga is prepared from beehive. The hive is pounded in the mortar and made an oval shape lump enough for handling. Wax is used to rub on the warp thread to prevent from moist and being stapled. Sometimes, it is used as a warp brush by inserting pig’s hair in the wax.

(xi). Foot rest: A stout beam as a foot rest called Phaipan is placed against the wall of the house or post and towards the feet of the weaver. It is then, adjusted according to the warp length and the weaver’s leg by placing more wooden logs.

Types of weave:

There are three basic weaves namely, plain weave, twill weave and satin weave.

(i). Plain weave: The plain weave is also known as calico, tabby, taffeta, or homespun weaves. It is the simplest and most common type of weave. In the odd numbered rows of this weave, a weft thread passes under the first warp thread, over the second and so on. In the even numbered rows, the weft passes over the first warp under the second and so on. This close weave produces a strong, flat textured cloth that wears well.

(ii).Twill weave: Twill weave produces sturdy cloth that has raised diagonal lines. Each weft thread crosses two, three or four warp thread at a time, creating extra width. This added width makes a decorative fabric that holds its shape despite repeated wear. Each row of weft thread follows the same pattern. But each row’s patterns begin slightly to the right or left of the pattern in the previous row. This technique puts a series of diagonal lines in the fabrics. The weaver may create unusual patterns by changing the direction of the weave and adding various colored thread.

(iii). Satin weave: Satin weaves are made by passing the filling yarn over or under one warp yarn and then under over four or more warp yarns. On each successive line weaving, the interlacing is made to move more than one step over to avoid forming a diagonal design.

Of the above cited weaves, the Zeliangrong and other Naga tribes practice the first type, the plain weave. The twill weave is more often used in basketry and rarely in cloth making. This is due to the available fibers.

First phase of weaving (Phei Rhanmei):

Phei Rhanmei means the preparation of the warp or warping is the first step of weaving. In this process, two persons are demanded; the first person sits before the tension rod while the second person taking the bobbin of yarn and stretches it from the tension rod to the front rod. The warping starts from the tension rod. First the sitting person takes the end the yarn from a bobbin of warp yarn in the hand of the standing person. The seated person ties the yarn to the tension rod. Then the standing person lets off the yarn from the bobbin in her hand. The seated person takes a strong twine of Nhu and ties it to the harness rod and makes a loop round the warp yarn and again another loop is made round the harness rod by the same Nhu. The warp yarn then passes under the Tamnukbung and passes under the lease rod. It passes from the front rod and round below it and it is brought back to the seated person. The yarn passes from below the tension rod and round it. Then, the yarn passes under the harness rod and above the Tamnukbung; this time the warp yarn is not looped by the head twine. The warp yarn makes a turn round the lease rod and then passes from above the front rod round it and then below it and comes back to the seated person. This alternate stretching of yarn does continue until the required width is achieved.

Proper phase of weaving:

When the preparation of warp is completed, the weaver sits on the mat and keeps warp tight by the leather strap against which she leans and keeps her feet pressed against the foot rest. Then, she winds the weft thread from around a spool called bobbin. The bobbin acts as a needle that draws the weft thread over and under the warp.

The weaving process starts when the weaver lifts the harness that holds the odd numbered thread. This is done by bending towards the loom, folding back her knees to loosen the warp. This act creates a space called the shed through which the shuttle and weft pass. After lifting the harness, she straightens her legs adding tension to the warp and jerk with the beating sword. When the weaving goes upward, increasing the woven cloth, the weaver used a stretcher to prevent the textile from being squeezed inside or to prevent from over extending. Finally the weaver lowers the first harness and pushes the newly woven row into place with the beater. The beater is in a frame located in front parallel to the harness. It has a sharp end to beat each the next row, the weaver raises the second harness and passed the beater through the warp. The next shedding is done with the help of the circular bamboo rod pressing against the harness, which opens up passage by pressing the odd number below. The weaving of each row involves the same process.

The pair of tension rod placing the warp in between is folded twice and fastened at the grooved by cords of the back strap and holds the warp in tension. The adjustment of the warp is done in the tension rod and the lease rod. As the finished cloth being rolled back in the tension rod, the thread in the lease rod is rolled forward upward to the end.

Different kinds of design are woven with the help of the small bamboo sword, depicting the required number of thread, and moves towards the lease rod by adding harness. Having been put into place all the required rods, the woman places her left palm towards the lease rod and her thumb hooking the bamboo rod then she leans forward, pressing the other rods and lifting the harness to form the shed. The same manner is used even in putting designs.

Loin loom is the oldest and simplest type of loom, one which is still widely used throughout the tribal world. It is so called, because the pressure of the body is used to keep the warp thread taut. This is made possible by means of using leather back strap attached by rope to the breast beam. This attachment passes around the back of the weaver’s waist when she is seated on the ground before the loom, with her feet outstretched. It is through her body movement of forward and backward that the warp yarns are controlled. The weavers usually sit on a wooden low seat or mat with basket full of different spun yarns and spools of thread, a wax brush her loom and a knife to trim stray pieces of yarn. In connection with the weaving of Zeliangrong, T.C. Hodson writes, “The girl or woman who weaves the cloth sits on a low stool a little way from the back bar and keeps the warp tight by means of a leather strap against which she leans, the ends of the strap being fastened to the back bar of the loom. The shuttle containing the thread is passed over and under the warp and the woof is pushed into its place by a flat, crescent-shaped piece of wood slightly larger and wider than the warp. It is hardly necessary to say that this process is slow and laborious.” The weaver does take about a week or more times to finish the work, and thus after along process of hard work, the kind of cloth so woven is availed of.

The choice of color is a matter aesthetic consideration. Red is the symbol of velour and strength; white is the symbol of simplicity, humility and gravity; yellow signifies the innocence and the freshness of youth, and black is the symbol of darkness and cruelty.

Hiu Pheingauh for men, and Langhiu Pheisoi and Bungkam for women are the most decorative and highly prized clothes of the Zeliangrong people. The other clothes with extra weft designs comprise (i) decorative extra weft of different kinds and sizes e.g. Hiu, Piauh, Chiat-piban etc. (ii) embroidery works added on woven fabrics e.g. Paa-baan (iii) needle works to join two pieces into one cloth and artistic way of stitching at both ends of the cloth e.g. Thangzui etc. In addition, there are other clothes like Mareipan, Langjinphei, Khimphei etc. Sir Lawrence cowing made a mention of the art embroidery having introduced in 16th century where well to-do school girls were taught. However, this art was practiced by the hill women long ago as early as their weaving history. Next to weaving, embroidery is an important handcraft. It is done by the Zeliangrong weavers in their textile with the help of needle and colored threads. It is believed that the needle was introduced in Manipur from Burma. The Zeliangrong women produce beautiful embroidery works such as the pattern of the Talam (butterfly motif) and the Bamphimik (Pigeon’s eye motif) as in the Langhiu Pheisoi and the Thangphei respectively. They have great pride in their works.

*The article is written by Budha Kamei.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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