Meeting Weavers- Chakhang

While loitering around in the streets and bazaars of Saiha and Aizwal and (of course on the many mini stops the Sumos took on the way ) we'd seen many a bag , skirts / wrap around, sling pouches on sale both on the street and in handicraft shops. My fascination with them has been seamless and after many trips and queries made by us , we were now also able to distinguish between the Mara and Mizo weaves. Well, at least some of it!
 We have been asking most of these shops, especially in the smaller towns and villages, questions about where all these goods were coming from.  We unfailingly met with the same response – Aizwal or in some cases, Burma. The girls selling their wares in Saiha, shops in Phura and Thenzawl, Handicraft shops in Aizwal all had either of these two as responses. So if what we know as Mara weaves are all being made by the Maras across the border is there no Mara weaving industry on this side? From folktales to short stories and other writings, all seem to speak of weaving being common place. So what has happened to mara weaving on this side of the border? Or if the weaves are supplied from Aizwal then what is happening to the various tribe specific weaving designs techniques etc? I had plenty of such queries, but didn’t consciously move around seeking answers. Each village that we visited I’d hoped that there would be someone we could talk to about this. Or better still if we could witness the weaving process itself.






The first interaction in that direction is what this post is about. Sharing the joy I felt in the interaction with an enthusiastic  group of women weavers in Chakhang.  
We were on our way back from Mawma Tlang after a steep and arduous (enjoyable nonetheless) trail uphill and having managed not to tumble down the steep descent I was finally walking through the village to get to a tea stall, along with youth from the local MTP.
Self Help Group- Handloom - a board jumped out at me and I stopped dead in my tracks only to recover and get to the window of the home bearing that tag – weaving finally! The woman at the loom was surprised by our curiosity and told us she’d be happy to meet us and talk the following day. So there I was the next morning, leaving our hosts home half an hour late from the scheduled time- and I met a neighbor telling me that the women of the SHG were ready and waiting! Guilt ridden I reached there to find six women busy at their looms. All around on clotheslines were spread different pieces made by them.

Pleasantries over, the chairperson pointedly told me (a tad disappointedly too) that the Mara sling pouch I was using was a duplicate (i think she meant machine woven). Dismissing it she took us around the workshop and showed us what the real goods were. A while later, Nimesh and his colleague left for their work with the schools and I was left without any translation help and sea of questions bottled up inside me. 
Over cups of tea, Kua and Cigarettes, in broken English, Hindi Mara and Mizo, dotted with ample laughter, we had animated exchanges on  what I’m doing in Saiha, who buys these fabrics, designs  etc. Gesturing wildly and playing a kind of charades we tried to get our questions and answers across.   

I inquired about a particular piece that had held my eye from the time I walked in. They not only told me what the design was called but sat me through the names and bits of history of each of the designs. On seeing me jot down some names, they peered at the sheet / scrap of paper and corrected spellings. Noticing that I only had a scrap to scribble on they offered a hymn sheet which I initially refused and subsequently accepted as the alternative seemed to be a young woman running off to the market to buy me a note pad.
While walking me through the available fabrics and their origins, one woman told me how a particular design was her original creation, she also I think was trying to explain how the weaving on these looms is different as all the designs exist in the weavers memory or imagination unlike the mechanized looms. Seeing my jaw drop at the cost of one wrap around (Rs 10,000) she laughed and explained that it was a traditional Mara design and it took her over a year to weave it. Looking at it closely I could well understand why. Patterns were woven into every inch of this colorful piece making it heavier too than most others.  
There were bags, pouches, neck ties and blouses slung on clothes lines all around the place , I was itching to know more yet strangely content as whatever was taking place was a good beginning.


For long while after the initial excitement had died down I planted myself at a window and watched the colorful patterns emerge from the loom, standing in stark contrast to the dry dusty and scorched land outside(monsoons would be such a respite). The tools used were made of wood , bamboo, deerskin, porcupine thorns etc.

The periodic thuds marking the end of one line, looping threads through each other to generate intricate motifs, , frequent combing through the yards of threads with grooved wooden sticks and bristles  ensuring a tangle free flow was all mesmerizing to watch but possibly back breaking to undertake. The loom on one end was pegged to the wall and on the other end a belt held it to the weavers waist. A couple of hours hunched over the details of the weave must take some effort. 
  Earlier in the day I had also seen a loom spread out in the sun, being prepared, it seemed for some action. It belonged to a woman of over 50 years of age. In this group too the majority seemed over 40 in the least and a discussion with a young woman in the MTP too had revealed that not many youngsters are keen on weaving. From what I have been seeing around its possibly because these skirts/wrap arounds are not as popular with the younger generation it seems to be  worn only on  special occasions, cultural events or to church etc. Also cheaper and trendy designs are easily available in the market. 


There however  were two young girls in the workshop though. They repeatedly came upto the older women when they got stuck with a patch on their loom.  The younger girl was adamant on learning a particular design and older one explained in a laughing and halting English that they were both still learning and were excited about learning more and faster. I could relate to their impatience, I was also overwhelmed by the urge to understand better, what everyone seemed to be telling, to ask all questions i've been holding in, to get answers there and then. 






Within a few days of our return from Chakhang, we were in Aizwal. We made the long pending trip to the state museum. The loin loom and the other implements displayed there were similar to the ones used in Chakhang. Nimesh and I went through each in detail and tried to understand what we could. 


Sometime soon I tell myself, I’ll get down to reading and understanding more. I realize now that as much as my queries are still largely unanswered I have found the first step in understanding more- what has been the best part of the deal is that- no book or research reading could have boosted my desire to learn and understand more about handlooms and the changes that have taken place with regard to weaving . A heartfelt thanks to the group I met in Chakhang.



In the meanwhile, if anyone reading any of this can point me to some person , organization , group etc. I’d be thrilled to explore.

7 comments:

  1. Hi Roshni, thanks for the post. I'm so glad to know that something meaningful and useful for the whole community is coming up in my home town. Puhpa Kunal, IAS, DC of Saiha district, in his blog udpate today said, "There is a good news for people of Chakhang. We are taking first step to promote Loin Loom SHG by providing them a house under SGSY."
    Finally, they will have a house from where these women can work and produce Mara traditional clothes in a good number. Thanks for sharing this to the DC and others.

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  2. Thanks! It was lovely to meet the group and even better to hear that things are moving in a good direction for them!

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  3. J.K. Chozah, ATC : Aizawl.April 14, 2010 at 4:30 AM

    A word of Thanks to Pihno, Roshni IPS (SP) & Puhpa, Kunal IAS (DC): Saiha District, Saiha. I am so happy to see your response, love and sincerity, For Promoting and exposing of what Chakhei's village women has privileged. And none others district administrator had never done before like what u have exactly did, (i.e Promoting Traditional weaving). we proud of you by seeing ur faithfulness in your job and sympathetic concerned.It is a remarkable history for all Chakhei offspring's and especially for Chakhei women, In our Tradition Men never weaved so, it's also one way of women empowerment for our mara tradition as a whole.

    .

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  4. hi!

    Thanks for your comment. Like you I'm glad too that weaving in Chakhang is getting attention from the administration.
    Just one observation - my name is Roshni but I'm not the Saiha SP.I live in Saiha and travel around it with my husband Nimesh. Details of his work and organisation can be found on his blog
    mizoram-samrakshan.blogspot.com/.
    Thanks again for stopping by.


    Thanks again for stopping by.

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  5. Well done,Roshni.i do appreciate your keen
    observations on traditional Mara weaivings in general and that of Chakhang in particular.
    Regina-paw,Kolkata

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  6. Well done,Roshni.i do appreciate your keen
    observations on traditional Mara weaivings in general and that of Chakhang in particular.
    Regina-paw,Kolkata

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  7. Hi Roshni commend you on capturing the spirit of the Chakhang women. And its great to see the enthusiasm and dedication you have towards preserving the beautiful arts of Mara. I would like to purchase the beautiful weaves by the women in the SHG at Chakhang. How can I find more information about them and how can I buy their weaves? Could you be kind of enough to share the name of the SHG and how I would be able to get in touch with them? I live outside of North East as FYI

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