Chizami, in Phek district Nagaland is a beautiful quaint village/town. I first went to Chizami in 2009 and since then many years have gone into building an understanding of what makes Chizami such a special place for myself and many people across the globe.
Nestled amidst the rich biodiversity, fertile hills, abundant jungles, thrives this indigenous community of Chakhesang tribe that is stepping forward in the modern world with skilful tools and wisdom of their ancestry.
Tucked away in this secure haven, is the Nagaland centre of the organisation called North East Network. Chizami has seen winds of good change with this organisation since the 90’s. NEN from their centre in Chizami have been extending exemplary support towards women’s rights, health and livelihood concerns for Chizami as well as many other villages in Phek, Kohima and Tuensang districts of Nagaland.
They have also spearheaded movement towards indigenous slow food production as well as conservation of original seed culture. One of their key extension for livelihood among women is Chizami Weaves where hundreds of Chakhesang women are engaged in traditional back strap loom weaving. They make many varied products for local, domestic as well as global platforms.
My first meeting with Chizami Weaves led me to Back strap loom weaving of Nagaland. I went with their team to a village called Enhulumi. I sat in the courtyard of the bamboo home where two wooden pillars were dug into the mud floor. A horizontal bamboo rod was placed between the two pillars and a bundle was wrapped and covered with a cloth around the rod. Roosters moved in and out of the house while toppling over few baskets full of yarn balls kept next to the pillars. A toddler girl kept looking at the strangeness of my face without a blink. She was leaning against one of those pillars.
Adule came out with cups of tea and sat on a moora parallel to the pillars. I took my first sip of tea made with milk powder and a lot of sugar. I barely took the swig down my throat, when the magic unfolded in from of my eyes. A moment I behold as alive memory.
Adule had started to open the bundle wrapped on the horizontal bamboo rod, which I later figured was the warp bar. Loose threads danced near the beam as she kept flipping open what was so carefully wrapped up together. This folded bundle, once opened, held the heddle, shed, motif sticks, sword, bobbin and the loom bar. To the loom bar, on the two ends a back strap or waist belt was meant to be fastened. Adule while holding all the sticks carefully fastened the belt around her sacrum. She created the right tension using her feet and the stretch on the back and instantly the loom took form and the loose threads were tightened into a defined warp and weft structure. That moment I saw a human become the loom. She was not using the loom, she was the extension of the loom.
This was a life changing moment of realising the relationship of craft to the craftsmen. The simplicity, portability, compact structure of this loom gave me new eyes of looking at tool and their usage vis-a-vis human evolution.
Through this privilege of working with skills that have lasted eons of change, I bow to the artisanal lineage of back strap loom weaving. And I am grateful to Chizami weaves for being my first bridge to a beautiful extension to craft.
I am far from being even a decent weaver on back strap loom. But I have learnt to at least become the loom.
The drape and pallu of this Sari carry weaves woven on back strap loom. These weaves are a modern adaptation designed with the weavers of Chizami weaves. To interpret these weaves in a Sari form, I have used shades of Indigo and Turmeric Dyed hand spun Eri silk, woven on the traditional throw shuttle loom of Assam.