Handicrafts of the Zeliangrong: Their cultural significance
- Part 2 -

Dr Budha Kamei *

As mentioned above, the purpose for which the splints are put into is also taken into account. Because the sizes differ, accordingly, the splints are made shorter or longer. One internode is enough in the case of mat while two or more internodes are splint together for larger baskets. Weaving of baskets or mats starts by arranging the splints on the floor in a series called the warp. The wefts are then plaited to the warp differently in the techniques mentioned above.

In every basket, weaving starts by forming the base then the free ends of the warp and the weft are then turned perpendicular in order to prepare wall of the basket. After which, the warp and the weft are inter plaited exactly as in the case of the base. When the required height is attained, the wefts and the warps are turned downwards, so that the folding effect is produced. The ends are then tucked in the body, cutting the remaining ends.

The hemming or rims are circled with a thicker splint keeping the mouth stretched and is neatly sewed with cane. In the case of making a conical carry basket, additional splints are added at regular intervals to widen the upper portion. Finished baskets are coated with cow dung and then smoked for many months, so that it is sealed and water-proofed. These baskets are mainly used for storing grains and for measuring purpose. The coating is done after the purchase has been made. Baskets are renovated by new coating when the old ones start peeling off.

Cow dung coating is done as it helps to cover the holes in between the weave and strengthens the basket. It also helps to ward off insects, rodents and pest from the stored grains. Carry baskets and daily hand baskets are coated by smoking. It takes a longer period to give a shiny black gloss to the outer surface of the baskets. In this way bamboo is treated to resist insects and decay.

Traditionally, the Zeliangrong parents prepare Tuna Kaluang for all their daughters to be used when they grow up. It takes 5/6 months of smoking, having preserved the conical baskets on the deck of the kitchen roof. The inner side of the strap to be placed on the head is however, protected from the smoke by wrapping it properly with piece of rags. Every girl proudly will display her smoke damned Kaluang during harvest season. Baskets are classified as carry and storing baskets.

Special baskets are made with cover arrangement for storing ornaments and clothes. The Zeliagrongs go on to use number of special baskets known to them as Khuk and Kaluang. Most carry baskets are a little pointed on the bottom with loud mouth. Baskets for carrying fire wood and bamboo tube are woven flat bottom with straight body of all the baskets and conical carry basket known as Kah and Kaluang (a basket used for carrying paddy and other food grains) are the most popular baskets as the people are being engaged in agricultural work throughout the year.

Kah is made of cane and bamboo. It is woven in such a way that there are holes all over the body of the basket and four legs of properly splinted bamboo pieces are fitted to it in the four corners from bottom to upper edge of the basket. They use a big mat called Tarah, for both thrashing and exposing paddy and other food grains are exposed on Gou, and Charap.

Bamboo tube with lid called Haantong is used for storing salt or chilly or dried bamboo pieces or dry meat or fish. It is also used for keeping money. Khuk is used for keeping clothes, money and jewelry like modern Almirah. Khoujai, a small basket with cover made of cane or bamboo is also used to keep the threads and cotton for weaving. It is usually kept by hanging on the wall of the house. Kou basket of bamboo is made for storing chili or other food grains of the household.

The handle of knife and dao are made of strong thick bamboo which is again decorated by plaiting cane work in the fashion like fish scale which also enables a person to have firm grip and avoid slipping out from the hand. The gourds with which they drank are finely laced with cane all around. In fishing, they use a fish container with a closed neck is tied to the waist by means of a strap, which is already tied to the neck of the container called Chngrhon.

They have a custom of making Tuna Kah, for girl which is presented as gift to the sisters as sign of love and care for their sisters. Jngh is used for the purpose of filtering the pounded rice powder. It is made of properly splinted bamboo pieces. One will wonder to see how they made this filter for the same purpose. This denotes that they had unique skill of handicraft.

Pheijngh (made of bamboo pieces) is used to weed out the unwanted grass etc. of the field or garden. Pantangluh (winnowing fan) is also made of plaited bamboo slit, and is used to winnow the paddy or rice. It is generally round in shape or rectangular with corners and as such it differs from most of other varieties which are found in other parts of India.

They use Lataikok (bamboo spoon for making chutney), Napkan Latai (bamboo ladle), Peijoubong (bamboo cups for drinking rice beer) and bamboo daba. For fetching water, Haalthai, bamboo tubes are used which they bring in on their backs in Kah or Kaluang basket. Bamboo platform is placed near fire place of every house for sitting or lying upon.

Rough log planks, stools hew from solid log neatly plaited are also used. There is Pheishang made of cane, worn by male members on both right and left feet just below knee. It is a bunch consisting of about thirty rings. It is also dyed into black color with wild indigo locally available. Kandih (rain-shade) is used during rainy season specially working in the fields. For purpose of drying meat or fish in the sun or in the kitchen hearth, they use an open container locally known as Charap. Thus, most of the household carrying and storage articles of the Zeliangrongs are the products of bamboo crafts.

In addition of the above mentioned articles made of bamboo and cane, the Zeliangrong like other Naga tribes, produce a number of wooden objects for their domestic use. They love to drink rice beer; it is used as daily drink, while working in the field, at home before and after meal. So, rice beer is known as national drink of the Zeliangrong.

For the purpose of making, fermenting and storing the rice-beer, properly hewn big wooden drum like cup known as Buh of about four feet in height and two feet in diameter is used. Rice is the staple food of Zeliangrong people. They use Panthun (a big wooden mortar) and Mih (a pestle about 5 to six feet long) for beating out the rice from the husk.

Rice pounding table is indispensable in the life of a Zeliangrong. It is hewn from the trunk of a huge tree and has to be carried to the village by the owner's kinsmen and friends who go in a mass to fetch it, which they do with the accompaniment of melodious voices. In size, it may vary range from 3 to 10 feet length and 2 to 3 feet in breadth having 2 to 5 holes in the middle. A wooden eating plat with legs known as Thingnapkok was used in olden days, but now it is replaced by steel and silver plates. A large wooden dish was made for use of a household.

Weaving equipments such as Tamben (Beating sword) and Tamjin (tension rod) are made of wood. There is a special kind of wood locally known as Ngai for making these equipments. This beating sword is also called cloth beam or apron beam. This is made flat like a dao, pointed at one end or sometime pointed at both ends depending on the artisan's choice. Sizes of the beating swords depend on a weaver's choice, but the beating sword is wielded by one arm only, its size does not exceed 6 inches in breath and a metre in length.

There are many other crafts such as Khong (drum), Rahbung, and Lim which are used as musical instruments. Khong is a big wooden barrel hewn with axe and chisels, both ends of which are covered with animal hide fitted by cane; Rahbung is made from a matured coconut, to which is fitted with the hair of horses' tail, and there is a separate song called Rah –luh for using this instrument. Goichei (mithun's horn) is used as trumpet and they blow this trumpet to announce the beginning of festivals, and Lim (a musical instrument flown by mouth), is made of a piece of bamboo, etc.

Joumuh (guard) is used as vessel of rice-beer among the Zeliangrong people. Usually, a matured gourd is harvested before rainy season and let it dry for about two or three months. Then, the end of the upper part is cut and removed all the dried seeds. It is then poured in water and wasted out. A piece of wood is used as lid of the gourd not to pour out the rice-beer. They also use Tadok, and Tashen made of matured gourds. Elderly persons use Goichei for drinking purpose. For storing water a long wooden trough made out of tree trunk raised to a little high from the ground by wooden supports is kept in front of every household. Therefore, every craft has utility value.

In conclusion, the traditional household materials are now discarded by the Zeliangrong people particularly in the villages which have close contact with the urban centers. Even the people living in the remote areas are also substituting the aged old household materials by modern and new ones. It is high time to collect and preserve all these valuable materials of the household before banishing from the Zeliangrong villages.

In other words, it is right time to preserve the material culture because it also expresses the way of life of the people. About the handicrafts of Zeliangrong, a scholar writes thus: "these are the products of civilization which becomes, within its own limits, so exquisite that none but an artist is capable of judging its manufacture, a civilization that can be termed imperfect only those who would also term imperfect the Indus or Greek civilization of thousand years ago."


* Dr Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on May 14, 2017.

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