Folklore, myths and handloom

#1 Dec 2nd, 2017, 22:29
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Dec 2008
In the land of awesomeness
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Rekha Doley. Courtesy: Hasina Kharbhih

Desmond Kharmawphlang, 53, collects folklore for a living. On most days, he can be found travelling between villages nestled deep within forests and those perched on hilltops, acquiring songs and stories that have a deep connection with the weaving traditions of the North-East.

This quest has taken him to Assam, Meghalaya and some parts of Tripura. He talks, for instance, about his journeys through the jungle villages of Meghalaya’s Ri-Bhoi district, one of the few places in the region where ground looms are still used. “The Bhois (a subgroup of the Khasi tribe) have myths around the evolution of cotton and how the loom was created out of the body of a monster. They have a deep connect with nature, and I have come across designs whose origins lie in folk songs about the growing of flowers,” says Kharmawphlang, who is a professor at the North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong.

If you were to look beyond the visible landscape of a weave, you would find myriad stories hidden in the colours and designs—tales about human creation, magical deities and kindred forest spirits. These patterns offer tangible evidence of legends that have been passed down orally in each tribe over centuries. It makes them truly significant in the study of the region’s sociocultural fabric.

Today, the dual onslaught of commercialization and urbanization, means that weavers are being forced to churn out designs which cater to the demands of the market, rather than those which focus on their folk traditions. “However, there is now a growing movement to preserve indigenous identity, and some serious attempts are being made to revive age-old customs, rites and stories by a conscious few within society,” says Ramona Sangma, a professor of English at the North-Eastern Hill University who has presented papers on the link between folklore and weaving in the Garo tribe. Today, folklorists, anthropologists and sociocultural experts have intensified efforts to trace the imprints of myths, legends, ballads, songs and folk narratives in the weaves of the North-East.

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