Thebvo Project:
A thread that binds

Voice of Community through this blog is a work in progress and will be added through coming stages of progress. The project is based on the ethic of transparency, participatory decision making, and reverse pyramid model of benefit to the community.
All transcriptions and translations carried out by NEN team including Atshole Thopi, Pfolo Kreo and Keneingü Therie."
Photos by Jahnu Baruah, Piyush Goswami, Ritika, NEN documentation team, Toan Nguyen & Deshna Mehta.
Paintings by Mukta Changmai.
May 02, 2021

As of 10th September 2021, Thebvo Project is no longer active with respect to Mora Collective.

Thebvo Project, Nagaland

Tshulowe Tshulowe

Phase 1 | 2014 - 2020
Phase 2 | 2021 - ceased

Thebvo Project supports the indigenous craft of making textiles out of stinging nettle plant called Thebvo (in Kuzhale dialect). Thebvo Project extends to Zuketsa region of Phek district, Nagaland. It is a Research, Art & Documentation based livelihood, up-skilling and Indigenous Culture Retention project with Kuzhami (Chakhesang) community of Nagaland. It is a community-concern initiative made with Collaboration, Consent, Compensation & Credit to the original knowledge custodians.

Working with Thebvo is not merely an exploration of fine handcrafted plant- based textile, but a deep dive into the ancient wisdom of this community. The project intends to interpret discussions and action that can uphold the Thebvo tradition in the changing times and create opportunities for a viable growth of this Craft into ethical Art.  

Thebvo project brings together about 50 artisans from two village Zapami and Lasumi. Each artisan has gone through more than 400 “free for artisan” extensive training sessions to develop finer qualities of Thebvo fibre and are now confident in their skill to train another generation of Thebvo makers. Thebvo Project now celebrates a renewed confidence in Thebvo skill, capacity building of artisans and leadership prowess.

The youngest Thebvo artisan is about 30 years old while the oldest is 89 years. Co-founded with North East Network, Nagaland and funded by Mora since 2014, Thebvo project has successfully finished the training Phase 1 with the facilitation support of NEN as well as certain enthusiastic individuals.

In the ongoing Phase 2, the project aims to register Thebvo Project artisans through an organised umbrella and start a progressive line of leadership and accountability within the community. In the second phase, Mora will enable a market research through their existing community by testing out certain products designed by Mora. Once an adequate report is derived by analysing user experience, market interest and viable network, Thebvo project will work towards a self-sustaining model of production for the artisans. This will include training on appropriate costing for livelihood, understanding of creative design, and exposure to global craft world.

Upcoming phase 3 will involve encouragement and participation of youth. And create a well-rounded vision for Thebvo artisans and their environment. Setting up next steps for “Farmers who are artisans” and “Artisans who are Teachers” model that will encourage retention of original farming based lifestyle as well as instilling pride for indigenous craft.

Upcoming phase 4 will enable a handover to the original custodians of this knowledge and culture to carry forward with their own efforts what they envision for themselves.

The nature of community work does not offer certainty about the timelines of the project. However, our wish to bring community to a confident stance by 2024.

In the pages ahead, you will have an overview of the community sentiment over the last decade regarding the project.


Thebvo is the Kuzhale name for stinging nettle plant Girardina Diversifolia. Thebvo is integral to Kuzhami identity and often finds mention in folk tales and songs.

It is believed that Kheza people migrated to their present location with the knowledge of Thebvo fibre making.
The plant has been traditionally foraged from the steep sun-shadowed slopes down the hills of Kheza people who had the wisdom to turn it into a fibre that can be woven using back strap loom into sturdy, strong textiles.

Thebvo was extensively used by the tribesmen for all practical purposes including carrying bushels of rice, vegetables, infants and even heads of enemies (during headhunting days). 

Thebvo was woven to make shawls, baby clothes, bags, blankets, bed spread, etc. Its current usage is as perennial to the community's existence as it was in the olden days. 

Thebvo is still woven into bags or sacks to carry paddy or vegetables because of its sturdiness. There's not a single house in any village within the Kuzhami belt that does not have a Thebvo-ra. In fact, most of the women considered it their duty to weave Thebvo shawls. 

For, Thebvo, though plain and ordinary, was a long lasting fabric that was revered for its brawniness and durability. Thebvo-ra means Thebvo fabric/ shawl that in their words “can last a lifetime”. 

Their unique labour intensive processing makes Thebvo-ra into a textile that is meant to last, meant to share and meant to be sturdy.
Zapami Thebvo team preparing to go for Thebvo harvest, Jan 2020
Village Elders
Children of Zapami and Lasumi Villages
the faces of Lasumi and Zapami

By Seno Tsuhah, NEN

Transcribed from an interview recorded in 2014, Chizami
Seno at Zapami Thebvo Project office, 2019

It is a very interesting project. It is a way of looking back and reflecting on the roots of our ancestors where the people of the community have very closely interacted and depended on Nature. It is all about reviving that relationship with nature and celebrating how people in the earlier days used nature to sustain their life, clothe their body, live that kind of life. Thebvo project is all about reconnecting, revisiting and reviving that strong relationship of people and Nature.

The first thing is that, it’s about reconnecting with nature and that itself is a worthwhile thing. I have not worked with my own hands with Thebvo, but as Chakhesang and also NEN being part of this project, I see it as a very beneficial project for the people, especially weavers who have been living with this tradition. It will bring additional income to the family, enhance skills of the weavers.

This project will take the community, NEN and MORA to another level. The community will feel the richness of this project. A project where there will be fair trade principles at every level.

Though there can be many challenges along the way. One is non-cooperation from the people. The kind of the motivation that we are working with may not be the same motivation level from the community. When we're working in a community we don't see the results easily, it's slow and it's part of life. When we talk about modern livelihood activity, we need to see the results somehow, it needs to be fast and as expected, meeting the timeline and meeting the market demand and meeting the expectation.

This becomes difficult especially in the small close-knit community. It is because that has been their way of life for many years and now we are talking not only about reviving but also trying to see the market demand and how we can meet that demand. There is a part of Mora, a part of NEN and a part of the weaver that moves together. That is the challenge the project may face.

Other challenge, as you go along, in the community after 5 years or 10 years, everyone may not carry same vision or message. In whatever we do, in some corner, there will always be criticism and discouragement. But all of us, especially, NEN, Mora and the weavers, we should have the commitment that whatever challenges maybe, we have to face forward.

The kind of vision we have, the kind of commitment we have already given cannot stop here. It has to go along with whatever challenge may come in future. No challenge too small, no challenge too big.

Let us work together. Let us believe this is that kind of livelihood activity which can bond the community more closer and stronger as one cohesive vibrant community whether it is Zapami, Lasumi or Leshemi.

Interview with Wekoweü Akole Tsuhah

State Head, North East Network,Nagaland (Since 2014) 
Founding Partner and facilitator of Thebvo Project. 
Completed Phase 1 with NEN in December 2020.

If we look into the current status of Thebvo, lot of our community have been using it but many have also forgotten about it. It’s been vanishing but not completely because some of the skills and knowledge associated with Thebvo is still alive. If active stance is not taken, then from this generation onwards, it’s going to perhaps stop.

With that there is a crucial need to come and make people believe in this and look at the potential of this plant and its fibre. We have many good things in the community but we don’t believe it in. It is only when someone from outside shows us, we look at it differently. That’s when something can come out of it. We need expertise of people to come in and help revive Thebvo tradition and do something with it.

The knowledge is there but the motivation is absent. We need to bring in that motivation and show the community the potential of Thebvo and how it is related to our cultural identity. I think we need to build on that motivation at this juncture.

If it wasn’t for Mora to make NEN look into this, then I don’t think we would have been motivated to go ahead in this revival. If it is just NEN we would have had second thoughts.

It’s very promising to hear there are already a group of spinsters, weavers who are having that motivation to take this ahead. That is very motivating for us. That way, we are very hopeful about this project.

Teachers and Makers of Thebvo, Thebvo Project office 2019
Atshole with Thebvo Team
Project supervisor from NEN, Atshole with our mezu (grandmothers) and azous (mothers). On extreme right is Azou nepei who was the first among the group to say yes to working on a fine quality of Thebvo… a prospect unthinkable for the community in 2014. In 2021, we have gone through many training sessions and weight of the yarn is reduced to around 1/10 the original size. And some artisans are now proficient and ready as skilled fine quality yarn makers as well as willing to train others.
Monisha Behal, Executive Director, 
North East Network 
at Thebvo Project site to encourage artisans

A thread that binds Us

The following is an adaptation and paraphrasing of actual and documented conversations/interviews with Thebvo Project team of Zapami and Lasumi villages, NEN and Mora over the last few years. These are transcribed voices documented during our trainings, meetings and interview sessions. While the conversations have been diverse and manyfold, we have compiled the voices of those who been most forthcoming in sharing with us their experience being an important part of Thebvo Project.
Thebvo Project Artisans over the years

Few years back, Chakhesang Women Welfare Society called us to Phek and they communicated to us to revive the old traditions and glorify the ancestors name. When there were no synthetic clothes available in our past, we used to work only with T hebvo, Kethro, Medu. But now life is changing very fast and we are forgetting our ancestral tradition. CWWS encouraged us to work towards our old handicraft so we decided to work for it.

Initially, we brought few women together and started Thebvo Self Help Group. But after starting we faced a lot of criticism, and we also found making Thebvo textiles very hard and because of these issues we thought about dissolving the group. Just at that time we heard about Ritika and her friends from Mora and there was a lot of encouragement coming from Chizami side as well. They comforted us by saying that we are not alone and we could all work together towards this common Vision.

This made us decide to continue and encourage others to continue as well. We decided to give our best without hesitation, and if Ritika and group are going to help us then we will not feel bad about giving our time towards Thebvo. We will not think about the obstacles and move forward. With this feeling, we decided to work together as a group. Then, we needed to have one Chairman and two supervisors for the group but none of the members were willing to take these posts. So, we decided to search for suitable candidates.

During the initial period, we received a lot of criticism and there were rumours that we had received 1,60,000/- from the government without doing any work. So, in order to be qualified to hold these posts and to speak on behalf of the group, we realized we needed someone who can read and write English. This way, the members chose me as chairman of this group and Wepre-ü was selected as supervisor. Since then, I have also been the supervisor for Thebvo Project- sometimes my daughter replaces me for this role because she can read and write English.

Yes. Ritika and her friends came to popularize our Thebvo practice and now they are working with us and if we achieve the goals of our project then we can achieve what they are trying to envision for us. Perhaps, Thebvo will become one of the most valuable things for the Chakhesang Community and Nagaland. We have no other valuable resources like gold in our region so there are no other things that can become popular.

This old cultural practice will gradually become popular that is what I think. Even the men and young ones can earn their livelihood through this project. The young people can learn many different things and through these skills they can even find other ways of earning a living. That is what I feel.

I am trying my best to be a part of this effort to revive Thebvo and achieve these goals and mobilize other people to be a part of this project. Even though I cant be present physically anymore, I do my best to promote our project.

I heard of Thebvo Project in Zapami in 2014. I heard that we can join the project and take the training. Thebvo Project team call us and tell us to come and work together so that is how I started.

In the training, we were introduced to three types of yarn- coarse, medium and fine. Finest one is given the highest wage. I decided to do fine quality so I took training for that.

My quality is still between medium and fine and I haven’t been able to yet reach the finest quality. I also want to do fine quality. I also want to make my yarn to be finest quality.

When I first started working on Thebvo, I was really happy and doing with enthusiasm. But later I wasn’t really happy with the wages I was getting. I have eye sight problem, so I am not able to make fine quality yarn. So, I felt lazy doing Thebvo work .

I thought if we go for daily wage then we can get 400-500/- but in Thebvo work if we work for whole day also, we are not able to earn 20-30/- also.

We remain busy with farming work and many other household chores in the morning so we don’t get enough time to do Thebvo work. And after coming back from the field, we are not able to work because of eyesight problem.

It is not possible to do this work if we don’t stay back home and work during daytime. With these kind of difficulties I have stopped Thebvo work for sometime.

I feel we are very lucky. We cannot compare our daily wage work and Thebvo work. They cannot be the same. They have come here, started the foundation of our work and guiding us.

If we don’t give our commitment wholeheartedly, we will also feel shame. They are helping us without having any hesitation then we too should respond with committed work.

We are learning from them. Yes, you all working on Thebvo but without they coming in and encouraging us we won’t be able to come this far on our own. Our Lasumi people also wont learn and you Zapami also will not give this much commitment.

If we calculate our earning in a year we are really grateful to them in many things. So, we all have to think and give commitment to work together.

So, instead of telling that wages is less this time, have trust that if we are doing better quality then they will see our work and enhancement will be done. They are here for our benefit, we must remember that.

Click here for the full conversation

Conversation with Dikhalo Rabvo

Transcribed from the interview documented at Lasumi village in 2019
I am Dikhalo Rabvo. I am Chilo-ü’s husband. I am a farmer. I also work as a church worker. I don’t have any regular job. So, I work hard to fend for my family everyday. God gave good health. So, sometimes I earn by doing daily wage work, rearing and selling of domestic animals, produce of vegetable garden, jhum cultivation and sale of certain fruits. With that we are able to maintain our daily needs.

In olden times, my parents worked on Thebvo but it has now stopped for a while because of the availability of market clothes. But this teacher (Ritika), gave us confidence that you all can do this work. And if you do we can pay you. Not only young people, but also elderly people who can’t go to fields anymore can also work on Thebvo and earn. It's good. 

That’s why my wife also feels encouraged to do this job. While doing Thebvo work, she tries to do her best. When she is able to earn extra money by doing Thebvo work, we feel very thankful. As a man, I am not able to help her properly but sometimes whenever she is busy with work, I help her by cooking on her behalf. 

Whether morning or evening, I help by cooking and also other jobs. So whenever I get time, though very rarely, I also split for her. I always encourage that she must do her best because we are able to get some extra income which is big help at home. I thank my wife also the teachers (Thebvo project team). 

The money she earns from the project helps with children school fee, rearing of domestic animals for sale, also able to help with household daily needs like oil, salt, chilly.

I never complain when she does Thebvo work. In early days she was working on fine yarn, but nowadays she is not doing that anymore. I always encourage her that if you are doing this work then try to do the fine one. But she too is growing older and eyes are not very good that is why she feels tired to work on fine yarn. 

That’s how she replied. Working on finest yarn brings a lot of money but even if finest not possible, try to do finer version, this is how I am encouraging my wife. Also, if its possible to enhance wages little bit, it will be good.

In olden time, we didn’t do this kind of fine yarn, only coarse big yarn. Thebvo old coarse textiles was not used for clothes like bags, shirts, or pants but was used for shawl, harvesting paddy, there was also no basta/ sack  in olden times. But today you all are working on fine quality, perhaps to make them into pants, shirts, bags. 

It will be beautiful. Anybody would like to wear that kind, I feel. If you can do nicely, it will be good and long lasting. It will be beautiful, “like to do, like to wear”.

Conversation with Ruth

Women in Leadership | Zapami
Transcribed from the interview documented at Zapami village in 2015

I have been Zapami Women Society chairperson. I am also member of Thevo SHG. Besides this,I also work for ASHA in Zuketsa region.

As a woman chairperson I am trying to work towards a betterment of society for women. I am working towards creating prohibition in trade of alcohol and other intoxicants in village region. It is not that I want to be a woman leader but I want to be a responsible citizen. It is not easy to be a woman leader, but when a need arises then I must wholeheartedly work for our society. Being a woman leader doesn’t mean we don’t contribute to household work. As a woman leader, I am not only working towards bettering the society but also contributing to betterment of households.

When there are problems in men’s society, they are different from women and girl’s society. When a problem arises in the society/man’s world, woman  should also contribute to build better society. Even if men create problem, it should not create mental havoc and distress in women and they should continue to live straight forward to be responsible women.

I don’t say this, but my friends say that after I have joined as the chairperson so many new things have happened and a lot has improved.

In the past, the use of Thebvo textiles was rough- while harvesting to carry rice or going to the forest, carpet like bed spread. (it was like cow-boy clothes- rough comfort clothes of no value- kottokara earlier). Our ancestors used it roughly but Thebvo Project brought out the cultural and aesthetic value of Thebvo and has given a boost to the production of Thebvo. With their work, we can clearly see the improvement in income and increase in value of our traditional textile. At first, they were facing obstacles and difficulties while working with Thebvo. There were many who didn’t know how to do Thebvo work. However, with the coming of this project, the interest in Thebvo activities has increased. It is due to the various training sessions Thebvo Project encourages everyone to attend.

Even though Thebvo Project is recent, the kind of interest they have shown has encouraged us to have more interest in Thebvo work. The interest with which they are conducting the project will lead to more development in our village. Younger girls do not know how to do Thebvo work, but once we teach them, they will be interested to start this work. In the future, knowing that Thebvo has value, it can open up ways to boost village economy. It is not just about making money or profit, it is indeed very important to learn the Thebvo work for continuation of our rich ancestory. Those who don’t know how to work with Thebvo should learn from the ones who know and inculcate this knowledge. I urge children of Zuketsa, the youth- the future generations to learn about Thebvo and come to our village zapami to learn the skill. I want to convey to them that it is better to work with Thebvo than other hard income jobs. it is better both for health and income. Even educated people should involve themselves with this project. The uneducated know how to do Thebvo work but educated ones know how to communicate with outside world and so they should learn to involve themselves in this work for their betterment. They should give more interest in Thebvo Project and see this as a window to economic opportunities.

Thebvo Project has brought value to our village with which we can encourage other villages to adopt Thebvo work as well and share the knowledge with them. When I go to other villages, I convey to the villagers to come and learn about Thebvo in our village. I tell them to not feel lazy or bored doing thebvo work and try to do more. Even if there is less time to give to Thebvo work, they must try their best to give more time.

We should try to produce more and more.

Bringing this kind of new project to the village, brings importance to the village and makes us happy. Even though I cannot participate in the Thebvo activities regularly or actively but with the knowledge that the project is happening in our village, I convey happily to other villages.

It is a kind of wonderful and surprising thing the way Thebvo team has come here to work with Thebvo in our village. It is so bold and brave of them while so many of us haven’t even been to another village or Pfutsero town or find it difficult to do even a small thing. I am speechless about how Thebvo Project team has come here and doing this project.

About Kuzhami/Chakhesang community with 
Sir Mikha Kenye

President, Chakhesang Public Organisation
(December 2014 & June, 2019 video interviews transcriptions)
Sir Mikha at Zapami thebvo Project office 2019

Ritika: Though you need no introduction among Chakhesang people, please introduce yourself for readers beyond your community.

Sir Mikha: My name is Mikha Kenye. I am from Kuzha (kheza) community. I belong to Zapami village. It is my birth place.

I belong to now called Chakhesang tribe. Chakhesang is a composite of three major tribe- cha stands for chokri, Khe stands for Kheza- we are Kheza/Kuzhami and Sang for Sangtam. Ethnologists and anthropologists describe Chakhesang as being of mongoloid race. Most of the Chakhesang migrated from South East Asia. Naga way of living can be found in South-East Asian countries also. And the lineage of language is Tibeto-Burmese. We are not only bilingual, we are quite multi lingual. We may be speaking in 5-6 different speech.

Ritika: Among many different hats that you juggle seamlessly with, an important one is your role as the President of CPO. Please tell us more about it.

Sir Mikha: CPO- Chakhesang Public Organization is purely a non- governmental organisation. It is also not a political organisation. It is an Apex body. Apex body means it is prime. In Chakhesang community we have different organisations like Chakhesang Student Union, Chakhesang Youth Forum, Chakhesang Mother Association, Chakhesang Wrestling Association, Chakhesang Cultural Organisation. Out of all, CPO is the supreme body and the other organisations are the sub-ordinate. CPO motto is "UNITY THROUGH JUSTICE". All Chakhesang people, political parties, churches and other organisations, even village level organisations respect CPO and give their co-operation without any reservations.

CPO’s primary concern is to maintain peace, harmony and tranquillity in the Chakhesang community. CPO has no routine affairs, no calendar. Whenever situation arises, even unwanted situation, we are bound to attend to that. We have to keep this as our priority. Secondly, we have to protect our Chakhesang community’s interest. Sometimes, while developmental activities are taking place, certain forces try to disturb, there too we get involved, or interfere in order to achieve the target projects.

Our culture, society and traditional practices are almost disappearing, vanishing, decaying so it is also CPO’s foremost duty to preserve Chakhesang culture. Chakhesang people are straight-forward, honest and hard-working people but modern society is becoming consumer society. Therefore, our present generation is not giving importance to traditional practices. So, CPO’s concern is also to preserve our culture, and to promote, preserve and protect the interest of the Chakhesang people.

In the present day, every tribe is trying to maintain their own interest and at the same time the Nagas are bound to live together. We have to maintain peaceful co-existence. Sometimes, tribal feuds also happen but every tribe has their organisations to resolve local issues. Whenever problem arises between the tribes, local tribal body like CPO, AO Sedans, Sumi Ho Ho and others try to reclaim peace. Whenever any land dispute arises also, the tribals give their best effort to solve the dispute.

As an example- Whenever any unexpected accident happens, intentionally or unintentionally different tribes comes together to resolve the issue. One tribe alone cannot do. It is interdependent. We all need each other. I believe other tribes too have the same objective like Chakhesang Public Organisation.

Ritika: What is your vision for future as CPO President?

Sir Mikha: Yes, I do have a vision. Though CPO is a non- governmental organisation but we can do a lot. We still can work hand in hand with government. Besides, preservation of our unique culture, my vision is of infrastructural development. Road is the lifeline and road brings economic development. We have to develop road/ logistics and connect ourselves to ongoing mega projects in order to do away with backwardness or our remoteness.

Another vision is for Chakhesang as Agriculture society. I want to encourage Chakhesang farmers, the primary producers in our food chain. As of today, we do not have fund or any market avenue for them. So, we are aiming at opening an organic market facility at Kohima or Dimapur within 2-3 years’ time with encouragement from present legislator representatives and the sitting MLAs. CPO has already put this proposal and it is under consideration.

This is to encourage the farmer. It can bring prosperity and abundance and can change the living standards of the farmers. By the grace of God, we still have cultivable land, favourable conditions of climate, fertile soil, virgin land and forests. My Vision is two-fold. It is not only to open these organic Produce markets but also to encourage the idea that when we should minimise our imports from outside, including importing meat. When we import from outside, we drain out our money to outside. I envision that we become self sufficient in our district.

We also want to improve human development through education. Education is the key to success. Education helps us communicate better with the outside world. So. we are now working hand in hand with Chakhesang Students Union on how to improve the condition of  area schools.

If we can continue working towards the Vision, we can start seeing the changes within 2-3 years’ time. This is what I think.

Ritika: We wish you the very best for your Vision. Could you please throw more light on who are Nagas of the past and of the present?

Sir Mikha: Head- hunting was practiced in our society till recent times but after the coming of Christianity, not only are Nagas converting to Christianity but the Christian missionaries have also brought education, opened schools, dispensaries and health services. We were confined within our own society, but with Christianity and through the missionaries, we are getting to know the outside world. So, with Christianity came not only the gospel but this has changed Nagas from primitive society to modern society.

Nowadays, society has been changing drastically where young generations depend only upon white collar job, government services. In olden days, Naga forefathers were very honest and hard-working. There were no beggars. There was no stealing. They followed our ancestral system of Metha, menhi, Kenyii (taboo, shame and fear).

We had not heard of any kind of unemployment problems. Nagas were not dependent on government services. They had self- reliance. Every village, every town, every family was able to live a life of self- sufficiency. But nowadays with the changing times, Naga mindset is changing too and people are talking only about unemployment problems.

In today’s society Nagas are no more honest. They don’t like to work, youth who are able to study and get high degree mostly depend on government jobs. They feel if they don’t get government job, it is equivalent to being unemployed. That is why the youth are living a liability life. I would like to add as my own example- I have 6 children but none of them are government employee.

Government job is not the only prospect for youth. They could also look at working with organisations like North East Network, Chizami where people are able to earn their livelihood and also helping society. Naga society is changing fast so unless Nagas learn to live without depending on the centre or upon the government, they will continue to face problems.

To me this kind of mentality, this kind of attitude should be changed. We have enough land. Every naga has own land. We can do our own project. We can plant. We can cultivate. So, Nagas should not change that legacy. Naga parents should not only let their children to go after government services.

What I can see in today’s Naga society that our whole system has become morally corrupt. There is no sincere and honest governance who can help public in the right way. Even the public are losing honesty.

Ritika: how has the society changed from old beliefs to Christianity in Chakhesang society?

Sir Mikha: Actually, Chakhesang society was very simple. People lived a simple life. Before the arrival of Christianity, Chakhesang people practiced animism. Once Christianity came, we abandoned our old religious belief system of animism. Then too, we had one supreme God, Ruphe Rozo. We used to believe that the earth was our mother and the heaven was our father.

We also believed in life after death. Those days we obeyed a lot of restrictions regarding forbidden things. But once Christianity deeply penetrated in our society, we have forgotten all those restrictions. We have now accepted liberty, freedom. In the olden days, women had no liberty, no freedom. Before Christianity came, they were not allowed to travel alone.

They were not open to outside world. They were confined at home juggling between domestic work, paddy fields and other agriculture activities. I think, I cannot say 100% Christians are good Christians.  We may convert to Christianity, but it cannot save us. It all depends on our own self, personal life, behaviour, conduct and habit. No religion can change those.

It totally depends upon our personal belief system. But I should say, with Christianity something has been spoilt. The virgin society has been spoilt because there is no restriction. Restriction should be there. But nowadays everything is open. In olden days, we lived in confined society. Now we are living in open society. That is the difference.

Ritika: What are weaknesses and strengths of Chakhesang people?

Sir Mikha: We Chakhesang, if we decide on something, we are too conservative, too stubborn, and somehow refuse to change our habits. It is because of this reason that we don’t really know the outside world. We are always reluctant to change. We also mingle less with others. It is not that we are narrow-minded but we think inferior of ourselves. Perhaps our heart is yet not brave for outside world. In some aspects, we are very courageous but usually we are fearful to start something new.

Our strength is we have unity. We still have village authority. All the villages are republic. We control our own villages. We stand collectively for a decision and fight together if any difficult situation arises. Our strength is also that compared to other districts or tribes, we can easily survive for 1-2 years without getting essential commodities like rice from outside.

Others may face poverty in this situation. Chakhesang strength lies in our agricultural activities so we will survive better as compared to other tribes. Our strength is also that we can still earn from handwork, we still weave our own clothes.

Ritika: According to your insight, how can Chakhesang people integrate with the outside world?

Sir Mikha: This is a complex question- how to integrate with the outside world. We are now living in a modern society but we should not totally condemn or abandon our traditional practices. We have to preserve our culture. We are also living in a computer age where technology or information technology have become very advanced.

Chakhesang people may not be able to cope up with that. The vast world is becoming smaller and smaller. This world has become a shrinking world. Distance is no more a problem. Chakhesang people should not confine themselves in the village, in their rural setting only. We have to go out, we have to see how the advance countries, cities, towns, tribes or states think or how they developed.

Unless Chakhesang or other Nagas step forward to intermingle or integrate with the outside world, it will be difficult to bring changes, to bring new things. We must expand our knowledge and be open to new knowledge, ideas, or methods. Even to understand our own agriculture activities and lifestyle, we have to at least see the outside world.

I am not saying that we should leave our village. Our society and environment is good and we should continue living here but we should have a good exchange with the outside world.

We should observe how the world is changing, which direction is it taking, what is happening in fields of education or of economy, how new world order is developing. While searching for all this, we as Chakhesang or Nagas should also share what we can do, what we know, what is our legacy. We should also keep heart to share our new ideas.

If we are not willing to change our heart and explore new things, we will becomes stagnant with no growth. So, our society should not be static. It has to be dynamic. We should change with changing times. We should adapt to changes to evolve in world society.

Ritika- In times of industrialisation, what is your idea of growth- what kind of growth is good for Kuzhami people?

Sir Mikha: I think massive development or massive cultivation, may affect ecological balance. Climate change is real. This has become a very important topic. We, as farming community, depend on Nature. If there is less rain now, it is the impact of Climate Change or Global Warming. Our rural people started to realise these things only recently. We need to preserve the raw material of our own land. Of course, we need to be alert to commercial aspect but at the same time we should not spoil the virgin land or raw materials available in our land.

If we have somehow destroyed, we have to re build. For example, when during road cutting happens, some trees have to be cut, we can plant more trees. We have so much wasteland that we can reclaim. Our land is like Eden Garden. God has created this world and gave it to us to take care of it and to multiply it.

We live in a beautiful blessed land. We have abundance of good things but we are slowly forgetting its value and destroying it. This is ignorance. So, we must give awareness in order to rebuild, we have to take care and multiply what we have now.

Ritika: yes, we should work in tandem with Nature. So, what are your views on Thebvo Project vis-à-vis modern society?

Sir Mikha: I am satisfied so far. Time to time they sit together. Few elderly women are also there. You have come at the right time. We are very happy since all of you have been very friendly. We are also friendly. Moreover, we didn't feel that you are stranger. We have come to know each other and we have become more closer. Its is a pleasure to have you as one of our Zapami brother and sister.

In the olden days, there were no modern type of garments, no wool, no silk. Before the coming of market yarn, our ancestors used Thebvo as blanket, as shawl whether we were at home or roaming outside, going to field or even sleeping. It has been helping us since a long time. Thebvo has been precious to us and our ancestors. But after market yarn became readily available, we are discouraged to do Thebvo work. But today, with the help of Ritika and NEN, Thebvo is being revived again.

We have the ancient skill of developing textiles out of Thebvo, stinging nettle plant. We have to promote this. We have to improve it. We have to encourage the artisans because this is not only important for artisan people. This is a reflection of our identity. We should not only think of monetary gain. Future generations may forget Thebvo.

We should not leave this work. We should not throw away our identity. Thebvo work is long, tedious process but instead of depending on machine, we should continue working with our hands. Once quality gets improved, there will be more demand when it comes to something handmade. Machine-made is different. Handmade has more value I think.

We don’t really need to do in large scale but there should be consistency, continuity and not stopping. We have to do generation to generation. Not only to this generation but we should visualise to impart the skill of Thebvo to a series of generations ahead.

This revival is not only for this generation but through this the outside world can know that certain Nagas practise this skill. I don’t know whether Thebvo is available all over the world but Thebvo can be a help to us. It is our identity. It is from Kuzhami, Chakhesang or Naga people’s land.

It is also not only about showing the good skill of Thebvo work, but our rich culture, identity and uniqueness can also be known through Thebvo in other parts of the world. That is why I think Thebvo craft is good work. 

Ritika- Do you think Kuzhami Artisan School is a good idea for the community?

Sir Mikha: It is not a bad idea but I think it will take time. I am not discouraging this idea but we have to give awareness to the people/artisans in the village. We have to create importance of our ancestral skills. If you want to preserve our culture, we (CPO) can also create awareness in the community of the importance of Thebvo-do because we are fast forgetting our traditional practices.

Atshole: Do you think women and menfolk can do Thebvo work together?

Sir Mikha: We can encourage. There is no real division of labour on that. There is no restriction, “Ey you are acting like woman. Naga society or Chakhesang society can never permit on that.” But it is very odd for us to go for Thebvo processing. Even in the olden days men used to go to the jungle and bring raw material.

Anyways, we used to have dormitory that we called Morung in the olden times where youth came to learn ancestral skills.

It is very funny also but it is quite romantic. (Laughs)

Advice from President | Chakhesang Cultural Organisation

December 2014 video interviews transcriptions

My vision right now is to teach others the knowledge that Chakhesang community possesses. And to pass down the knowledge while it is still there, because many children nowadays do not know how to even do stitching of woven cloth, leave alone weaving. For instance, shawls like Razu Piku, Sama Khu, youth do not know how to even stitch. So, in order to teach the people there should be some kind of institution. The initiative like yours is a good example.

However, in order to teach all those people or children it will be difficult due to financial problem. That is why my wish is to teach group wise- let the women teach the women, let the men teach men, and to separate skilled learning like that.

The work that you all are doing, I am very happy and this is really going to help us. Our people have become alien to our own self. In olden times, we were very independent, we didn’t depend on outside. I tell the younger generation- we must learn to work within our own resources and one must put in a lot of thought to revive this.

When it comes to the nitty gritty of the cultural rituals, I will handle it. But for the physical work, the younger generations must put in the effort to revive. Even bamboo and wood, we have a lot of varieties, we do not need to get materials from outside. We must learn to utilise those.

We abandon our own resources in an open place to rot and we throw it. We slash a jhum field and leave all the wood there to rot and waste it. This is not right. We only work, get the work done but do not analyse the work we are doing. I have been discussing this with my office bearers as well. But to do work like this, we must educate at the village level first.

We all may and may not be educated, but the uneducated should not be unemployed. It is laziness which brings theft, laziness brings shame, laziness brings murder. So, in the village if people remain fit, healthy and responsibly do their own work, then there will be no idle hands, and then there will be no thief, no drunkard, no gamblers, there will be no criminals.

But because we are not able to provide such opportunities, they exist. We need to find ways to bring prosperity and wealth to the area, for that we need to attempt with full effort. Each individual, each family must make a genuine attempt. This is my biggest dream.

So don’t be lazy to work with honesty and sincerity. We should keep these as core values of the Chakhesang. Secondly, in our culture the things that are a taboo and things that are shameful should be maintain strictly. That is my opinion and have been sharing it with many people.

Conversation with Village Councils

Zewekha Wetsah

VCC, Zapami until April 2021
Thebvo Project head-supervisor- Phase 2
My name is Zewekha Wetsah. My village is Zapami. I am the current VCC of Zapami village. We in zapami have 380 households. Number of people are 1964. In Zapami, people earn money by going to field as labour (daily wage earning), some do jhum cultivation (vegetable and rarely fruits plantations). 

Some people from Zapami earn by stone crushing. Stone crushing brings maximum income for Zapami village. In Zapami village, men do woodwork and firewood cutting. They earn by doing mistry, porter, hajira (daily wage) kind of work mostly.

Women work in paddy field, they do farming labour (on others fields), tilling the soil, breaking top soil into pieces. They do that kind of work. They also do weaving, textile work. Basket making like che-do, melhe-do, zu-do, laasu-do is done by men. Like this we do handicraft to earn money but only when time permits. In Zapami, we don’t have many people who do government service.

Thebvo project is present in Zapami village. Village people- mothers and young girls come together, work together happily at Thebvo project. In Thebvo project Phase 2 (Jan 2020 onwards), we came to do better quality Thebvo work, language training, other handicraft training. When we went to workshop, men did basket work, che-do, melhe do, laasu-do. Women did yarn twisting. 

Like that different trainings we are doing in second phase. Seeing them participate in workshops, trainings, we liked and felt happy. Just like how I went to attend the workshop today along with Thebvo project team, all of Zapami people- old and young should start working with Thebvo project and earn their livelihood. This is what I want to say to Zapami people.

With the presence of Thebvo project in our village, we do hard- work and get better. So that we can bring more value to our village people.

You all have brought Thebvo project in our village and now in this project many of us are starting to work together and earning, so we thank you. You guys came from different places- Mumbai, Delhi, Punjab, different places, also from Australia. You guys came and helped, gave trainings to our Zapami people. Zapami has been able to get livelihood opportunities through Thebvo training. 

So many things you guys have shared with us and encouraged us. In the coming days, our village people will keep receiving you and give our best to offer co-operation to do work. If you grow longer and wider, then through this project you can help us grow more. We, Zapami will give our best to this project, together with you hand in hand.

Lonyichu Prabe

Village Council Chairman | Lasumi 2019
I am aware of Thebvo project. I can see that elderly woman who are not being able to go the field are working with Thebvo and earning an income. I can also see that there are some mothers who are getting income from this and taking care of their children’s needs. By bringing this project into our community we are very happy as it is reviving the skill and knowledge of our ancestors.

In the past we used to make coarse yarn but now we can see that this project is creating a yarn that is very thin and fine. It is like the yarn that comes from other foreign countries. Thebvo fibre is very strong and doesn’t break easily. Even if it is made into a fine shawl, it will still be durable. I see value in this project and feel happy about it. 

People are taking interest and coming from foreign countries to learn about Thebvo. It is indeed very encouraging and the village council and the larger community appreciates this initiative.
Thank you.

Sir Dilhi

Village Council Chairman | Zapami 2014
One aspect that I would like to focus on to keep the tradition alive is the art of making craft and weaving. The older generations dressing style is decent and smart. They weave it by themselves. At present, we get to buy lots of diverse clothes from government and that is also good but I want the present generation to preserve the tradition of making crafts by oneself.   

With the coming of Thebvo Project, since you all are doing a good job, I believe that the present generation and the generations to come will grow much better.Through this project, many people who cannot go to fields anymore are able to earn their livelihood. I am very happy for bringing this project to Zapami. You have taught us many good things. 

For men folk to get involved fully in this project is not possible. The women are doing right now and I am thankful to them. Zapami is known for Thebvo work. If we stop doing this ancestral craft then our village name wont be known and people will lose their roots. 

As a community, we should go and harvest it together. And If the plant grows then the village will also grow. If the people are willing to revive & cultivate Thebvo, then jhum cultivation of Thebvo is possible as Thebvo grows continuously.

Sir Lhipezu

Zapami Head Gaonburra | 2015
The coming of this project in Zapami I believe will benefit the village. There was a time when Thebvo was losing its value among our people but recently after knowing its importance, people are starting to show interest again.

What I have been thinking is that now people know the importance of thebvo so it will be good if some people can cultivate Thebvo and create livelihood opportunities through this project. This will be for the betterment of oneself in particular and the community in general. Everyone has to do it together hand in hand.

Atole Kazhie Rhakho

Women Secretary, Chakhesang Baptist Church Council

Interview at At CBCC office with Ritika, 2014


Please introduce yourself

My name is Atole and I'm working the as the Women secretary in CBCC. I look after the women department. We have 100 Baptist churches under CBCC where we conduct seminars,  training program, leadership programs for women. I belong to Leshmi village but am now based here in Pfutsero.

Please tell us about the community of Chakhesang Nagas.

Among Chakhesang, we have three major communities called, Chokri, Kheza, Sappu. Chokri is the majority group, then kheza and followed by the Sappu speaking group.

How important is the value of Thebvo to you?

We were very rich in tradition earlier. But we have lost all the rich cultural value because we have adopted new things. Thebvo was also very essential commodity for us. Our ancestors used it to make it into yarn and then weave shawls, blankets, bedsheets. We are still practicing the old way of making these textiles. These are not fine, very rough. So, we have to revive it by improving the quality of Thebvo. Thebvo textiles in their traditional state are not of good standard and will not make much commercial use also. But with this project, I am sure we can enhance the quality of Thebvo and let other people know about Chakhesang people. What we have is very unique. It is not easy but once we make quality Thebvo, I am sure the world will come to know about us because people these days are more interested in natural, organic things that are good for health. The fibre is unique, it only grows in certain places. It doesn't grow all over the world. It would be interesting to see how the world looks at Thebvo.

I have come from outside, how can the community come together to make this project successful?

By nature we are not that active. I think motivation is necessary and also we have to give hope and prospect for the future. It's a steady process but I am sure when people get to know about importance of Thebvo and its revival, they will slowly give their contribution and interest in this project. This can be a good source of income for the people. It will enhance their economic life.

According to you, how difficult or easy this revival will be?

We are losing our culture. So many women do not want to weave Thebvo because it is tough work. Many people don’t know how to do. Only a few practice it properly. We don’t have any technology to improve Thebvo process. It is done with hand and its takes time to make so only few people take up this initiative. Also, people don’t know how to market their product properly. People don't know the value of Thebvo even among the Chakhesang people.   

how do you think we can turn a livelihood project into a revival project.

We have to work hard especially us, the local people. We need to make them understand that it's an important project for the youngsters to take up. Of course, the weavers are needed. But we also need someone who can take initiative to motivate people. An educated one, a good mobiliser. Of course you have done your part. But on our part, we have to try our best to cooperate with you and encourage people to participate in your project. I will try my best to coordinate with village and church leaders to see where we can cooperate together.

What is the status of women in Chakhesang society?

Actually women play an important in society. In comparison to other tribes, Chakhesang women have better status especially Kezha people because we have property inheritance. If our parents bought properties it can be given equally among the siblings. If my mother owns a paddy field, she will pass it down to me and I pass down to my daughter. But when it comes to decision making, we don't have any opportunity to make the decision. Fortunately, my family is different, they always include me in the decision making. Even in Church decision making, only a few women participate. That is where we lost our status. It would improve in certain area if women had better opportunity to enhance leadership. So far we don't have any legislators among the women, all 60 are male. no ladies.

Do you think in Thebvo project we can create an environment where women will be the voice and the men will be supporting?

Yes, I am sure it will be a very good opportunity for women to come out. we need to motivate our people especially the women to take part in this. Mostly, we need to target the educated ladies who are interested because uneducated people they can be simply an employee, but they cannot go beyond that.

I think it's very important for people to understand that there two kind of skill sets. illiterate and literate skill set. there should be a mutual respect for both.

Educated ones don’t have the practical experience. most of the thebvo weavers are educated in the knowledge which is passed through the ancestors. The educated ones will have no idea about Thebvo. But once we try to motivate these educated ones with the importance and value of Thebvo, maybe they can help the uneducated ones to coordinate and work together. Marketing is important. For that we need the help of educated ones. This is possible. If many women like me who are leaders come together and motivate people, it will be quite effective.

I agree with you. I think women who have been carrying out the traditional skills, they are the hands of the project. And those who are educated, they are the voice or mouth of the project. If that combination becomes fluid in cooperation, then we can progress on the Vision.

Yes, and for those who can collect raw material, can be hired on daily wages and can easily earn some money. These sort of things don’t need skilled workers.

What is one message you like to give to the women in your community.

The most important thing is, we must revive Thebvo culture. This will improve our life, our economic life. And help us reach out to those who don't know Naga and our struggle for freedom. Many outside, even in India, don't know who are the Nagas. I think we have a good prospect to reach out to the world through Thebvo. Thank you so much to the Thebvo project team for taking up this project and wish you all the best in your venture. we would love to see you again.

Story by Thebvo Project Supervisor, Lasumi Village

Chete-ü with her daughter Kenei

I am Chete-ü Therie. I am from lasumi. I am about 45 years old. My family has three people. My husband’s name is Zhiengulo. We have one daughter. Her name is Keneingu. I really work hard to sustain us as a family. I also give my best to learn new things to earn my livelihood and also help my household. I thank god, I have a small government job as worker of Anganwadi. I also work with SHG federation as a community resource person. Beyond this, I joined Thebvo Project as supervisor for Lasumi village since December 2015.

I live a peaceful life with less worry because my home is intact. We are able to look after our child. House is constructed. TV is also there. Gas also there. Rice cooker also there. I have everything I need so I am happy and relieved.

My husband doesn’t eat paan, tamul. He doesn’t drink alcohol. And I also don’t eat any of these. Even my daughter also doesn’t eat. We go to church every Sunday for service and I also attend women service on Wednesday. Everyday we also do family prayer before sleeping. I want my daughter to be a god-fearing person, to be a good woman and get a good government service as an officer. I want my husband to know God and live a long life together. For me, in god’s name, I will be healthy and want to look after my family and household. I want to do my best to love my child and my husband. My husband never scold/fight with me. I really thank God who gave me a good husband. And my child is also obedient to both of us. That’s why I really thank God that we are living a peaceful life in the name of Christ.

“Jesus in the family, happy happy home.”

Wife and Husband
Chete-ü during thebvo harvest

Conversation with Chete-ü and her husband

Chete-ü’s husband:

My name is Zhiengulo Therie. I am a farmer. Chete-ü is also a farmer. She is also active in SHG. The main source of income is daily wage and my wife gets some income from SHG work. She also gets some money from Thebvo Project. That is how we sustain our family.

My wife was the chairperson of village women society. She was also a teacher in LC school. She has also been sunday school teacher. She is part of thebvo project. She is also a farmer. she is also Anganwadi worker. She is kind. She is a very fast worker. She is a multitasker. She can do all things that many people do.

What I really like about her is that she is always able to find a path for our family, and because of that we are a happy and content family. What I don’t like about her is that she needs to understand other people better. She should be more alert and needs to be aware about other people’s character.

While she is working on Thebvo work, we help each other. I take care of the household activities. And that is how we work together as a team. In any work whether at field or at home, whatever work we can do according to our capacities, we do as a team. When one person is busy, we help each other all the time. Whoever is slightly freer helps the other.


Just like my husband said we share our thoughts, we share work and always help each other. There is no gender division of labour between us. We go according to our skills and not our gender. Many community people used to rebuke him saying, “these are the work of women, why do you have to do women work.” No matter what people say we ignore it because we understand our work best. My husband supports me in many ways.

Sometimes I have to travel to different villages for even 20 days in a month for setting up SHGs. At that time, my husband takes care of the household and farming activities. He wants me to be a leader in the community, he also wants me to understand people better. To also reform some of my bad habits and qualities. He always wants me to be a good woman.

Chete-ü’s husband:

Through Thebvo project, we got an additional source of income. That is why we are happy. With that money we maintain our family and we are happy with it. When I see her working on finest fibre, I think to myself, if she gains experience then I am happy for her, else I feel sorry for her.


When I started working on finest fibre, my husband’s reaction was, “why do you have to work on such a thin yarn. Is it worth to go through this body pain, so don’t do it. Because you may not get as much as daily wage out of this. It would be much more beneficial if you work in someone else’s field and dig the land and get a wage.” He wasn’t very encouraged seeing me doing this work.

Chete-ü’s husband: When she was working on finest yarn, I used to ask her, “Is it worth working on it? How much will you earn from this back-breaking work? is it worth it?” But overtime when I saw her interest in working on fine yarn, I told her, “perhaps this is good for you. I can also see that you have improved so much than before.” If she is able to do that kind of work, I am very happy.  We must expand Thebvo, make it bigger than what it is now. We should help more people, encourage them. So that people can be motivated to do better than what it is now.


I am very happy that my husband feels that way . What he said how I should encourage people I would like to follow that. His perspective is indeed very good. I am very grateful.

Chete-ü’s husband:

I tell others that my wife works with Thebvo, she is Lasumi supervisor and she is friends with teacher Ritika.


I also tell other people that my husband supports my work and because of his support I am able to do Thebvo work. Because he excuses me from other work, I am able to do this work. Had he not excused me from work, I wouldn’t have been able to do Thebvo work. That is why we have to appreciate and take pride in telling others about my husband.

As Thebvo Project Supervisor in Lasumi

Young Chete-ü as Thebvo Project student, Nov 2014
Lasumi weekly meeting at Chete-ü's residence, Jan 2020

I am very happy to become Lasumi supervisor. I am really enjoying as I have learnt lots of things after becoming supervisor. I give my full heart to it.

After bringing me on as a supervisor in December 2015, we work together at my home for minimum 4 days in a month and sometimes even 5-6 days. On the days we work together, we cook and eat together. I do my best to cook for them and encourage them. Even their work has become much better than before. Even the ones who have been working on coarse yarn are slowly moving towards medium size. But it is still hard to work on the finest one.

When they work on fine one, they fear their eyes will become bad so they refuse to work on finest quality. So, we are mostly working between medium and fine. There are now less people working on coarse yarn. The remaining of us are working together continuously and have become much better than before. My friends tell me that if the charges for medium and medium-fine quality are enhanced, then they will be happy and be more active. If they give their heart more, our project will become better.

As a supervisor, I work with women towards splitting, twisting and even spinning of Thebvo fibre. I keep the records of raw fibre given to artisans, number of attendees on bi-monthly training days. When NEN supervisor Atshole makes a visit to Lasumi, we sit together to assess the quality of the yarn, weigh it and make payments accordingly to the yarn size and quantity.

After paying artisan wages, honorarium is paid to the supervisors. In lasumi we have about 17 artisans. I maintain fibre and yarn inventory register per person. Every time how much raw fibre is taken and how much yarn is collected is maintained in this register. We have complete account of artisan wages from start to now- how much payment, how many gram, everything is maintained. This is the formula we are using.

I also maintain the activity log of the month with various expenditure date-wise. Expenses include meal and tea requirements for the attendees like rice, sugar, tea, snacks etc. I maintain this properly and when Atshole comes, we do the total of expense and I am paid the money. I also do visits to artisan homes to motivate them if they are in some problem and not being able to attend the training sessions.

When I go to our Zapami office, I meet Zapami supervisors, we greet each other. They also welcome me. I also check the work of other artisans and assess if Lasumi is doing better or Zapami is doing better. I check both and compare their qualities.

All Thebvo supervisors discuss together, clean the office compound, maintaining register attendance and also take production reports. After that I instruct the artisans in Lasumi about the way forward. I also make home visits to check on their yarn quality.

When I go house to their house, checking their quality, I give them feedback- you are doing good, you are not doing good. If someone is doing good, I encourage them that they are doing better. If one is not doing good, I motivate them to do better.

One such meeting when Chete-ü went to Azou Neicu-ü’s house

Atele (Chete-ü): our teacher (Ritika)is coming or what?

Yes, both of you didn’t turn up today

Neicu-ü: Yes we had some urgent work here that is why we couldn’t leave

Chete-ü: can we come?

Neicu-ü: Terho wu moro? You are coming, healthy? (greeting- are you ok, healthy?)


Chete-ü: asks her sons: Are you all happy with mother’s Thebvo work?

Boys: Yes happy

Chete-ü: are you(neicu-ü) also happy doing this work?

Neicu-ü: yes I am happy.

Chete-ü: do your children help you while working on Thebvo?

Neicu-ü: Yes, some of them started helping.

Chete-ü: Even your children, like one heart working together, right?

Neicu-ü:  Yes, they are doing.

Chete-ü: Are you doing Thebvo work like before, morning- evening?

Neicu-ü: Yes, I am doing. I do morning also. Evening also.

Chete-ü: As we discussed, every Friday (5th day of week), we have to come together to work, like before. If we don’t work together, our group will become smaller. So now 7-8 of us are there, so everybody must come. I came to tell you this. Do you have any already spun Thebvo?

Neicu-ü: yes, I have

Chete-ü: then please show

Has the quality becomes lesser good than before?

Neicu-ü: This is the good one.

Chete-ü: oh is it really? Do you have other?

If possible, do more consistent.

This is better, this is good (the one in basket), but that (on pahu) needs improvement.

Neicu-ü: it will become better.

Chete-ü: ok then. Do more and do better than before. Do you still have fibre?

Neicu-ü: yes, still have some.

Chete-ü: ok then we will meet again on Friday (5th day). Have to reach before 9 am everyone.

Ok then I will go. Good night everyone.

Neicu-ü: ok thank you!

Chete-ü about her village and society

Cheteu and villagers sitting

Lasumi people live a comfortable, peaceful life. Even outsiders who come to live in Lasumi, say that its very nice to live here. They always praise. Lasumi people really work hard to send their children out to study. It is peaceful life here and year by year, it is developing economically. Year by year Lasumi people have been improving.

In lasumi, everyone goes to field and work as farmers to earn livelihood. Lasumi people cultivate their terrace fields, mostly rice and consider it the most important crop. We also cultivate maize, vegetables, potatoes. We can also get money through other plantation work like black cardamom, yanchak- monkey beans and kiwi.

Everybody has their own such family project to get income. There are many people with no government job, but we do fruit- vegetable gardening and jhum cultivation. That’s how we bring vegetables to sell in marketing shed. Every house hold has a SHG member. They do rotation to marketing shed bazaar.

We earn the most by doing cultivation of cabbage, potato and some other vegetables. Selling snails collected from the paddy field also brings us income. We also sell other wild and foraged vegetables, For this job, both men and women work together. Not only women. Also in paddy field, in jhum field, both men and women work together. So we get income from all these sources.

In a way we are not dependent on Thebvo work.

There are many different kinds of work we have to do. There is no day to rest. In a month, Thebvo team works together for 4 days. We also engage in weaving shawls for selling purpose, collect firewood, travel out for other work, ploughing of paddy field and vegetable garden, collecting pig feed, jhum cultivation.

We divide our time to manage all these jobs but we don’t really have a calendar. Just like olden naga people or our ancestors, how they used to do, we follow them and manage the work by alternating efficiently.


Chete-ü's Journey from Damadzu to Kepetha at Thebvo project

From Student to Teacher
Cheteu teaching Toan on the back strap loom
Chete-ü training Toàn to weave Thebvo on back strap loom

I joined Thebvo project in 2014. When we started Thebvo work, I didn’t want to do this, it felt like kechi kerhi metho- (death, life work). First day, we used needle to do splitting and I didn’t feel like doing so I was ready to stop but Neicu and Chilo said, “oh no no, we will do together”. That’s how I stayed on. I didn’t know how to do Thebvo work initially. For spinning I requested someone to do for me. During the beginning days of Thebvo, for just little more than arm length I would take whole day. People used to say, “we feel lazy even looking at you do Thebvo work. Just don’t want to do this kind of tedious work”.

In January- February 2020, Chete-ü graduated to a new challenging role as Thebvo Project’s Kepetha- trainer- teacher to the first student-Damadzu-trainee from outside the community. We commend her courage to agree to teach a male weaver, Toàn from Australia in the courtyard of her home. Toàn stayed in the village for a period of over one month to learn back- strap loom weaving with hand-spun Thebvo with Chete-ü as his one on one trainer.

Chete-ü, with our support and training could work out a strict curriculum of teaching to Toàn all the steps of weaving from ball-making, warping, weaving plain and weaving with motifs, technical aspects of adjusting the loom and body posture. The method of teaching was focused on making the trainee learn each step confidently before moving on to the next step.

Much to Chete-ü’s amazement, Toàn was resilient to keep doing- undoing the complex warping process for 4 consecutive days till he felt confident to do it without Chete-û’s support. After this training, he can independently warp and weave on this traditional portable loom and owes the beginning of his back strap loom journey to his trainer, Chete-ü. He now travels with his loom and stays connected with Chete-ü if he finds obstacles in weaving.

Toàn had to go through his bit of amusing challenges during this class though he handled well with good humour, determination to learn, and a supportive teacher Chete-ü. He perhaps may be the first male weaver the community came across and it was indeed quite a spectacle for men and women folk in both Lasumi and Zapami.

He was often sighted walking from Zapami to Lasumi carrying his loom. While it was common to see jaws-drop moments from males upon seeing him with a loom, women expressed that it is good if men also start engaging in textile activities. That way two people can earn through this.

One incident will remain imprinted in our memories of Thebvo stories. Chete-ü’s husband came back from Dimapur after many days only to find that Chete-ü has gone to the fields and Toàn was weaving in their kitchen. For a long time, he kept looking at him as if he couldn’t believe his eyes.

Then he asked Ritika who was practising Thebvo spinning, “Is he part of your group?” she replied, “He is your wife’s weaving student.” He looked at Toàn stunned for a while and then left saying, “I am going to break some stones.”

Chete-ü with Toàn after the completion of training

Chete-ü’s Thebvo concern

In our team, we have three grandmothers- Mezu CieChu-ü, Mezu Dilhi-ü and Mezu Kepezu-ü but because of their eye sight problem they are facing difficulties. Unfortunately, one of our artisans Mezu Kochu-u passed away recently. There are 13 younger women. Some of them don’t like to do fine yarn, so they stopped doing. But 7-8 of us are continuing to do together.

Families of 2-3 artisans transferred to other places that is why they cannot work with us. But we still have 10 people. Now to bring more people to work on this, I don’t really have high hope in me. Because people keep saying, “we don’t want to do, why you people are working on this. The work is tedious.” So, as of now there are no more people to join us. But the remaining are able to work together because we are united.

VCC and some older people are interested to involve men in this project but younger people are not really interested and tend to discourage us from doing our work when they see us working. They comment, “by doing this work, you will not be able to earn your livelihood.” There is no real help from them but instead there is discouragement to our heart.

There is no hope that younger people will do this work. Only elderly people will do.

Younger people these days are not interested in Thebvo work because they get more money from daily wage jobs, NREGA work. After NREGA came, people have started to get easy money from there. During elections time also, people demand a lot of money. And they do get that money and that’s why younger people are not interested to come down to do this work. Many people have now become lazy. 

We are making yarn from this one plant which stings when we touch it. Lazy people will not be able to work with Thebvo. People who like to work are the only ones who will be able to do it.

Chete-ü’s Thebvo dream

I believe I want to spend my whole life working on Thebvo and continue this as my livelihood. If my work keeps getting better then one day I want to be able to show my work to the world. Once people know me, even if I don’t go to sell, they will come to buy Thebvo here.

So my hope, my dream is to do my work in a bigger way, so the people can know me. And I can earn my livelihood from here. I often keep thinking of how to make this project grow. Today, I want to promote that this project is my biggest life plan. I want to give my best to do this work and guide other people, encourage more young people to come join.

I want to show them a way to earn their livelihood through their handwork/ skill. The objective of Thebvo Project is to show people how to do this old skill and revive it. I believe that this is actually a good fibre. When we do Thebvo work, it can become popular and foreign countries’ people will get to know the skill of our ancestors. That’s why I am working on this project.

Conversation with 
Azou Zulo-ü Wetsah

documented between 2019-2020

In thebvo work, I do twisting, spinning and then submit to office. When I get money, I use it for my family and house wherever needed. Sometimes, I also support in children education. Doing Thebvo work, I feel I am getting benefit. Also, I don’t want us to lose our ancestors’ work.

Its free (doesn’t cost us anything), we can just go and collect from the forest and bring fibre. That’s is how our ancestors have come this far. We too, in future have to keep it continued, like them. From thebvo work, we will do better for family, we will improve our work, our scope of knowledge will get better and will be able to continue doing good work.

Of course, from farming work, we get better wages, better than Thebvo work. If we think deeper, then our children and children’s children need to learn this. We cannot think only about earning more money. We need to pass it on to our next generations. Also, we need to give more time. We also should show our ancestors’ skill in different places. People will also get to know more about us. If the wages are higher than now, then we will feel more encouraged to work.

What I believe is that in one month, we should be able to work 4-5 days together, give your full heart on those days. Once our work grows, people will come searching for us and will like our work. So from that, I believe, we all will benefit. So, all of us stay healthy, work together, give more commitment. Then this will grow.

(We are thankful to Azou zulo-ü for offering Thebvo Project her home to be used for workshops in Januray- February 2020. She and her family played wonderful hosts in facilitating smooth running of workshops along with cooking delicious meals for attendees.)

“One day, when forefathers went hunting in the jungles, they got stung by Thebvo. So, perhaps they thought to themselves and wondered what kind of plant that was? They decided to strip it and found that it was sticky and slightly elastic. That's how they got to know that this particular plant they have come across was Thebvo that could be used to make textiles.”

“In olden times, we didn’t have any link with plains people. We also no access to any clothes or yarn from outside so we looked for fibrous plants that will be good for making clothes. The following varieties of plants were used for weaving textiles: tupha (cotton), Kethro (jute), Thebvo, medu, mesiimelii, tekhumelii, kumemelii and chiiremelii. All these plants we used to weave our clothes. Except for Thebvo, all the other plants could be used any time of the year.

– Ngupenyi Lomi and other elders from Leshemi

"We were not taught, but while trying it ourselves by looking at our friends shawls, we would catch the idea. And it has passed on like that. We never teach each other. I also learnt in this way. We brought shawls from our friends which were beautiful, looked at it intently, warped it and then wove it following their patterns. We learnt it like you all learn when you look at textbook.
we were eager to do so we wove even if it wasn't of good quality. When we went for collecting snails and catching grasshopper, we always took lorhi (plant that Kheza people used to learn weaving) and used to weave with it. We couldn't stay idle because we wanted to weave so much. Even while pounding rice or fetching water, we carried lorhi along in case we got any free time. We rarely got free time.

Carrying babies on our back, we spun jute like Thebvo. Sitting on the tall seat over the wooden plank, our yarn hung till the floor. With our friends we used to compete whose yarn will spin the longest. When we didn't know how to spin well, the yarn would come around our arms and we used to laugh. We used to spin together with our friends and spun three or four balls in a day.
Whenever we were able to do, we would weave and keep it in a box. However, nowadays we just gift our kids. We still have to make Thebvo-ra (Thebvo shawl/fabric). We need it for harvesting. These days we cant find any cloth for harvesting. Thebvo-ra is very strong and the one that we get from the market is not very strong. We haven't done thebvo for five or ten years. People who have old thebvo-ra are still joining pieces and reusing them because it is good for harvesting (very strong).

Because Thebvo wasn't cut all these years, the quality has suffered. We have come here (to the Project) because this is important because it is important for harvesting, as we are farmers. We were also scolding our children and telling them that if they don't have Thebvo, how else will they harvest?

I am old, i can’t work in the fields but i can sit and do spinning and twisting. So I’ll work with all my heart to earn my living and also teach the young ones. Most of them are forgetting the traits so in my mind i think I want to teach them.Some of my age group are saying that they are old so they no longer want to do such work.

My children, (Thebvo Project team) to whom I am a stranger, came and tried to help me so I am thankful to them. And I also want to teach my grandchildren, with these things in mind I work with delightful and cheerful heart.
Now I have already finished two balls (of Thebvo yarn).

– Mezu Kezutshü from Zapami
(Excerpts from the conversations we shot in 2014, while Mezu was still alive and we would often pass her home while she silently worked on Thebvo in her home courtyard)

About the community/ Kuzhami people

Thebvo Project extends to Zuketsa region of Phek district, Nagaland inhabited by Kheza people, also Kuzhami, (the "khe" aspect in the term Chakhesang Naga). Kheza speaking people are blessed with life of abundance- hills, streams of water, jungles and fresh air. They are farmers and still live by their land. To earn money, they engage in daily wage labour work, sell vegetables in local markets, and make hand-craft products. The ones who could go to school now are dependent on government jobs. They speak Kuzhale dialect and have only recently adopted Roman script after Christianity was accepted as their belief.

The project’s key participation comes from Zapami and Lasumi- two villages believed to be extended colony of the village Leshemi. These and few other Kuzhami villages carry the lineage of Thebvo fibre textiles, the beginning of which is unknown and lives only through the collective mythology of memories. Their songs, folktales, skills and lifestyle are testimony to their rich ancestry that has lived through their oral history. Their present life a growing contrast to their past.

About North East Network (NEN), Chizami, Nagaland

North East Network (www.northeastnetwork.org) is a women’s rights organisation, established in 1995. NEN’s role has been that of a facilitator to empower women of Northeast around issues of livelihood, health, natural resource management, environment, conflict transformation, and governance through capacity building, awareness raising, networking, research and advocacy. NEN, Nagaland has been partner organisation for Thebvo Project Phase 1 that played a key role in facilitating project’s foundational execution and  community communication.

About Mora

Mora interprets textiles skills of various indigenous tribes into bespoke designs that conduit the stories of hands who make the textiles to the hearts that appreciate them. Mora endeavours to empower the buyer with knowledge of making right decision that can benefit the artisan community. While the end is Artisan sustainability, the means to that end is Buyer’s sensitivity- Mora upholds this bridge of understanding.

The funds from mora designs sustain artisan community- concern projects, primarily in North East India.

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