Yengkhom Mangi - The Innovator of Kakching Mat Weaving Machine
- An Interview -

Madhu Chandra *

President Pratibha Patil interacting with Yengkhom Mangi Singh of Manipur, innovator of Kakching Mat-Making Machine, during inauguration of Exhibition of Innovations at President House Complex in New Delhi on March 9 2012
President Pratibha Patil interacting with Yengkhom Mangi Singh of Manipur, innovator of Kakching Mat-Making Machine, during inauguration of Exhibition of Innovations at President House Complex in New Delhi on March 9 2012

The National Innovation Foundation (NIF), India honoured Mr. Yengkhom Mangi Singh, from Kakching, Manipur, with the state award for his innovative Kouna Mat Weaving Machine at sixth National Grassroots Innovation Award ceremony and exhibition held at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi on March 9, 2012. Smt. Pratibha Patil, the President of India, distributed to awards to 15 National and Life time achievers and inaugurated a five days exhibition. Over hundred innovators from all over the country took part in the award distribution ceremony and displayed their innovative products in the exhibition.
News and Picture Source : The Hindu

What struck me the most about the grassroots level innovation is Mr. Mangi himself - 70 years old with 70% disability, suffered paraplegia at the age of 14, a husband of a mentally challenged wife, a father of three sons two mentally challenged - yet a man who become one of hundreds and thousands of innovators that the nation recognised.

Mr. Mangi received an award of Rs. 50,000 from National Innovation Foundation, India honouring his lifetime achievement. He wants to invest this amount to develop into more advanced machine.

He used to walk with the help of a bamboo stick for many years, until he was gifted a wheel chair by Students from Kakching studying in Delhi, when he attended a National Grassroots Innovation exhibition in New Delhi last year. He still face with the challenge that the wheel chair still require another person to push him around. He will perhaps become more independent with his innovations, if he has an automatic wheel chair.

His achievement of innovation would have remained in a corner of his home without the initiative of Mr. Surjit Kshetriymayum, the secretary of Alliance for Development Alternatives - Manipur (ADAM), Kakching, Manipur.

Madhu Chandra, Spokesperson of North East Support Centre & Helpline and Regional Co-ordinator of GS/OM India Ministry for North East India branch, interviewed Mr. Mangi after he received the State Award.

Madhu Chandra: What is Kakching Mat Weaving Machine?
Mangi: Kakching Mat Weaving Machine is made of wood, a kind of hand loom to make Kouna and Chumthang Phak (Mat). Kouna or Chumthang Phak is a must-have household item in every Manipuri home. The Kouna and Chumthang phak is also an eco friendly product.

Madhu Chandra: What is Kouna Mat?
Mangi: Kouna (local name) is a class of water reed, a firm stemmed water or marsh plant grown perennially in the wetlands of the valley areas of the Manipur. Manipuri traditional mat is also made by another material known as Chumthang, which is also a classic reed grown in dry land. Kouna is soft, stems are bigger while Chumthang is harder and smaller stems.

Madhu Chandra: How did you lose the use of your limbs?
Mangi: I suffered paraplegia at the age of 14, which has caused 70% disability of my body. I used to walk, limping with a bamboo stick until last year I got wheel chair after attending the National Grassroots Innovative Exhibition in New Delhi. Now I am on a wheel chair, but I cannot function myself without another person helping me.

Madhu Chandra: Tell us about your Family?
Mangi: I got married to Maipakpi Devi at the age of 30 as a physically challenged man. Unfortunately, my wife has become mentally challenged after we got married. I have three sons; one is married, living with his family. Two of my sons are also mentally challenged. They are living with me. It is a huge challenge for me to manage and maintain the needs of my family as a physically challenged person.

Madhu Chandra: What innovates you to make Kouna Mat Weaving Machine?
Mangi: From my childhood, I used to be interested and is creative with electrical work etc. I learned to repair radio, electric stabilisers, car battery chargers on my own, without any formal training. I used to earn some livelihood from these works and it was not enough to run the cost of the family.

Twenty years ago, I realised that the Kouna Phak is the household items of Manipur, which are made by normal men. I had an innovative idea of making a wooden mat-weaving machine similar to a handloom, which are used by women in Manipur to weave clothes. I wanted to make such a mat-weaving machine that a disabled person like me, can also use.

I could not sleep for three months when I was thinking of making this machine. I never gave up the idea and began manufacturing in early 1992. Within a month I completed making one wooden Kouna Phak Weaving machine, it was one feet high, five feet in length, and four feet in breadth. I have been using it for the last twenty years until I developed an advanced model recently.

Madhu Chandra: What advantages does the Mat Weaving Machine offer compared to the traditional one?
Mangi: The traditional is suitable only for normal people, not for people like me. The traditional mat weaving machine, which is stretched on floor, limited with size, occupied more space. You need to bend your head down, which hurts your back. It was not possible for me. It takes minimum two weeks to make one mat with the traditional model. Now with the mat weaving machine, which I have developed, we can make two mats in a day.

Madhu Chandra: What were the Challenges You Faced While Making Kouna Mat Weaving Machine?
Mangi: My family was the biggest challenge in my life. My wife and my two sons were completely dependent on me. My eldest son got married and lives with his family separately. I did not have any single person to motivate me. I was alone, as a source of motivation for the innovating in making the mat weaving machine. In spite of constant demand to earn more money on regular basis to maintain my family needs, I never gave up my idea to develop a Kouna mat weaving machine.

Madhu Chandra: Why does it take so long for people to know about your innovative machine?
Mangi: The machine I made twenty years ago was kept in a corner of my house. Nobody knew about it, except those who came to purchase the Kouna mat from me. It came known to the public of Manipur when my machine was introduced during a handicraft exhibition in Manipur through the help of Mr. Surjit Kshetrimayum, the secretary of Alliance for Development Alternatives Manipur (ADAM), two year ago. Then it was also displayed at National Grassroots Innovation Exhibition organised by National Innovation Foundation India at New Delhi, in the month of March 2010, where the President of India witnessed it for the first time.

Madhu Chandra: What Is Your Vision?
Mangi: I have three visions: One is to develop a more advanced machine, so that the weaving can be faster and capable of producing more products. I have some innovative ideas for developing them. I hope in the next few months, I will be able to start on it.

Secondly, I want to manufacture more of this machine, so that it can be sold at reasonable price to the traditional mat weavers. This will help them make more mats with less effort and faster.

Thirdly, the Mat Weaving Machine can be further developed to weave carpets and other weaving items.

Madhu Chandra: Who much would a machine cost?
Mangi: The present model is sold at Rs 15,000 each. This machine can produce two Kouna mats and one Chumthang mat in a day. One Kouna mat cost Rs 350 and Chumthang Rs 600. This is suitable for semi skilled and home based business.

Madhu Chandra: What is your biggest need?
Mangi: I am in need of an automatic, battery operated wheel chair so that my movement can be operated by myself. This will enable me to move around without help of another person so that my innovations could be passed on to others.

Madhu Chandra: What message do you want to give to the people of Manipur?
Mangi: Your innovative idea should not be limited by whatever, whoever and wherever you are. Never give you up what ignites you. Manipur needs people who are innovative, particularly for the purpose of self employment, where there is lack of employment under Government schemes.

* Madhu Chandra (Spokesperson of North East Support Centre & Helpline) wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at finicy(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on March 11, 2012 and later updated for editing on March 12 2012.

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