MEETAC - Mission for streamlining TK

Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh *

Manipur has been the melting pot of culture and knowledge since time immemorial. The social organisation of Manipuris has been regarded as very advance and centuries old by the historians. It is one of the most ancient civilisations.

Being in one of the silk routes, the people knew the use of silk clothes before the rest of the world. The local silk items are one of the best in the world. The State is rich in indigenous cotton items and art of using natural dyes and expertise of using herbal dyes have been elaborately recorded by the British two centuries back.

The skill of local artisans in producing polo and equestrian items has been known for centuries, rightly so, Manipur being the birthplace of Polo. There are specific localities which are famous for potteries, the art of pottery is centuries old in Manipur and is indigenous.

The Manipuri carpenters are easily the best in the countryand there had been thousands of requests for taking out local furniture to elsewhere in the country. The items made of cane and bamboo are unique, lasting and high in demand. The products made of a water plant Club-Rush, locally called Kouna (Schoenoplectuslacustris) are beautiful and famous.

Manipuri tailors have earned a name for themselves and had been dominating the trade in the entire north east till a few years back. The Manipuri goldsmiths and blacksmiths are to gold and iron just like the Guajaratis are to Diamond. All the items mentioned above are made by hand with minimal use of machines and that is why all these items are so special.

The state have been home to many tribes and races living together in harmony and as such, there has been constant interaction and exchange in the form of arts and culture and enriched the traditional knowledge (TK). Once the mission finds proper ways of popularising and marketing these indigenous resources and knowledge with backward and forward linkages wherever necessary, it can be great boon to the state.

The potential of maximising the utilisation of local resources through streamlining traditional knowledge in Manipur is enormous. The local consumptions are not rising and people here do not have the purchasing power to pay remunerative prices. So, for economic viability of the TK owners, the products are to be marketed outside the state and country.

Of late, a few attempts are seen for marketing some indigenous items outside the state which are quite welcome. With so much of resource and knowledge base the people living in poverty is proverbial “Starving over goldmine” and it is an abject irony.

The main reason for this situation is a combination of historical, geographical and economic reasons. Since early period around 1000 AD, when the people were assigned different trades and professions by the king of those days, King Loyumba (or Loyampa), the people have developed different skills out of the assigned trade and profession.

Naturally, they became specialists in their own trades. There were chances of some external infusion during King Khagemba’s reign around 1600 AD and later. These skills are the traditional knowledge of the people of Manipur now and till medieval period; there were no problem in supporting the families out of that.

Initially though the trades were confined to clans that is not so for all the trades during modern days. Now in recent times with the patronage of kings long gone and due to changes in lifestyles, many of the traditional artisans have changed their professions. A few people who are with the traditional knowledge also spend their life in poverty due to lack of marketing skills and financial support.

The birth of MEETAC, the Mission for Economic Empowerment of Traditional Artisans and Craftsman shall be a boon for the people who have been preserving the rare traditional knowledge and skills for centuries. The mission was conceived with the objectives of cataloguing,standardisation, developing supply chain and market linkage.

The mission of “MEETAC” therefore should be mission of Manipuri artisans, craftsmen, TK owners etc. for uplifting their socio economy to enable them to live with respect which they richly deserve and in the process preserve the rich heritage of the state. The knowledge and resource should be capitalised and that is the best way to conserve both.

In present day situation, it cannot be like “art for art’s sake” which were possible in the olden days. Some of the TK and craft are dead and many would be dead very soon if not promoted, that would be precious loss to the society and country. Now, it has to be converted in terms of money to sustain it.

Though, the infrastructure requirement is very low for the artisans and craftsman, there is still some need for backward linkages. The mission would certainly work towards it. So long, the artisans and craftsmen of the Manipur have preserved these traits of skills with fervour, with lots of hardships, it is time they get due recognition.

The expertise that would come from experts and NID (National Institute of Designs) would certainly be helpful to the cause of artisans and craftsman but caution is that the indigenous character of the knowledge be maintained. During last two decades, there has been a drive to discover the traditional knowledge of the diverse people of the country in many fields.

In the field of medicinal plants and formulations, the country have already set up national TKDL (Traditional Knowledge Digital Library) in 2001 and in the similar manner, for the traditional skills of the artisans and craftsmen also, such digital library may be useful to safeguard the ownership of the TK, these safeguards are essential while mainstreaming the traditional skills.As cataloguing is one the objectives of the mission, creating a digital library at national level should not be a difficulty.

While launching the Mission on the 1st Sept, 2018, Madam Guv called it a product of “out of the box thinking”. In her opinion, the mission is of high necessity as every third or fourth person in Manipur is a craftsman and Manipur still has a good number of artisans and craftsmen. The presence of the state machinery on the occasion of launching of the mission shows that the whole state is behind it.

The mission officials were highly optimistic of the success of MEETAC. May the Mission meet a grand success.

* Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at bonbir01(AT)rediffmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 09, 2018.

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