Wancho indigenous community of Longing district of Arunachal Pradesh is akin to Konyak tribe of Nagaland in their culture and ethnicity. While living with Wancho tribe, I saw their proximity with both Myanmar and Nagaland. I also experienced the ancient culture of body tattooing where each tattoo is marked on a specific part of the body when the person reaches certain age. These tattoos symbolise when the body must get ready to build strength of a certain region of the body. Nestled around the Patkai hills, many people of this tribe still follow their indigenous faith, polygamy and chieftain’s governance.
When I saw the Wancho weavers making those beautiful intricate weaves with synthetic yarns, my heart sank with disappointment. So, I decided to come back to this place with cotton yarn, a promise that took more than a year to fulfil. Once I got cotton from Tamil Nadu, I knew it was not going to be easy to carry it to Longding. Also, it wont be easy to convince weavers to work with cotton who have now become used to weaving with synthetic yarn elasticity.
To my surprise, with the dedicated persuasion by Tongam Wangham, weavers soon took on the task of weaving Wancho motifs using cotton yarn, with the agency of their own creative liberty. The first weavers to step forward were Dilgham and Wanu. They explained to me the variations that will appear when we use finer count of cotton yarn for Wancho weaves. We derived various combinations of how border motifs could be integrated into a product design without cutting the weaves into a garment or accessory. We settled on narrow shawl/ panel form which could be incorporated in many ways as shawls, saris or wall art. As part of our collaborative design training, I told them my repeated words,
“You choose the motifs, you draws the patterns, you weave what your heart cherishes, you take your own time.”
I finally got to see the weaves after more than two years during my next trip to the region. Those moments are unforgettable when the weave is handed over hesitatingly by the weaver and the subsequent joy that is unanimously expressed between us. This shared moment makes each of these weaves an unforgettable memory. In the memory they becomes heirlooms.
They are heirlooms indeed! For they have lasted the test of time! For they are still alive and thriving and may continue for many generations if each one of us begin to visualise their longevity!
Jeepham is the term for female dormitory where after attaining puberty, Wancho young females stayed together to learn essential aspects of female life- cooking, weaving, social conduct, cattle care among other duties. This dormitory would remain segregated from male presence.
This Sari is a homage to the rich ancestry of Wancho tribe and a collaborative design product made with the weavers of the community using cotton. To celebrate the intricate nature of Wancho weaving motifs, handspun, natural dyed Eri silk and Malkha is chosen as a canvas.