Tribal Textiles of Nagaland

The cotton industry in Nagaland is flourishing due to the abundance of cotton and skilled workers. Though the process of spinning and weaving cotton are simple yet the motifs and patterns that are woven on to the cloth have intricate designs. The loin-looms are used by women for traditional shawl-weaving while the narrow fly shuttle is used to weave other fabrics. Each Naga tribe uses bold distinctive patterns with simple geometric designs and motifs for shawls and sarongs. Black or white are the predominant colours while red and green motifs are introduced for an extra weft.

The dress adorned by a person reveals his/her standing in the tribal hierarchy. Men are permitted to wear certain patterns and colours only after establishing a record of feats and achievements. Even within each tribe, the classes can be distinguished on the basis of the shawls they wear. Elaborately designed shawls are used by the warrior classes or the rich segments within the tribe.

The most important part of the Naga dress is the shawl which is woven with cotton and staple fibre, though some wool is also used. Shawls and skirts in simple white and reddish yellow colour as well as elaborately designed ones with symbols are woven here. Shawls are generally woven in three pieces and then stitched together with the central strip having more ornamentation than the borders, which usually have the same pattern. The tsung kotepsu ? a type of shawl, has a white woven band stitched along the centre of the shawl and is woven over with figures of elephants, tigers and circles, representing human heads. It has horizontal black, red or white stripes and may also represent a rich and brave man's acquisitions and achievements. The lotha naga shawl is woven in nine parts and stitched together.

A number of traditions and beliefs are associated with the weaving and wearing of the traditional dress. A chang cloth requires all the zig-zag lines to fall uniformly, or else the young warrior may die a premature death. When a Konyak woman gets married she wears a shatni shawl which is preserved and used only to wrap her dead body. Convention demands that a rongtu shawl be worn only if the mithun sacrifice has been carried out over three generations.

Textile dyeing is a significant art among the hill tribes of the region with each tribe possessesing one or two good dyes. Superstition and belief also dictates the selection of colour. The people in this region believe that if a young woman dyes her cloth red, she is sure to die a violent death and hence only old women dye yarn red.

Textile dress material called pulusi is woven by women with graphical designs. The dress material, noted for its striking and fashionable colours, is being accepted in other parts of the country as well. Kamphie, another traditional dress of Naga women, has its raw material collected during the first week of December. The weaving of the dress begins once the dyeing process is completed which takes nearly a mouth to complete. The colour combination in the kamphie is usually red, white, green, yellow and black. This is used only in marriages and in the Rengma festival of Nagaland.