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ARTS & CRAFTS of North-East


Miscellaneous Arts and Crafts in Nagaland                     

(about Nagaland Introduction / Factfile)

SUNGKONG CALL OF THE LOG DRUM - An Exhibition of Naga Art Objects


Introduction

In the traditional Indian concept there is no clear-cut distinction between arts and crafts. The sanskrit term shilpa includes both because it was felt by the ancients that art and craft are governed by the originality of expression and aesthetic consciousness.

The arts and crafts of Nagaland are inseperable for they are mostly associated despite their utilitarian aspects, with socio-religious rituals and ceremonies. 

Pottery is not a widely practiced craft in Nagaland. It is restricted to women. Revolving wheel is not used and the Naga tribal women have their own unique method of making pottery with hands. Usually the techniques vary according to the tribes and the geographical areas they inhabit. The most peculiar feature of Naga pottery is that the designs and motifs have been inspired by the designs of the textiles.

 

Pottery Making
a) Preparation of Clay

 

Either sticky brown clay or red and gray clay as the case may be, is moistened with water and pounded vigorously. The pounded mass is then kneaded well with water by hand into very stiff solid dough. A round lump of clay is struck from top to make a flat base. To keep the clay moist, water is sprinkled. It is then slapped and worked with the right hand till it forms a sort of cap over the clenched left hand. After the rim is formed, it is then placed upward on the ground and further worked on with damped fingers of both hands. First with an upward motion and then with a circular motion around the pot till a rough shape is formed.

It is then left in the sun to dry for sometime. When it gets hardened the final shaping is done with mushroom shaped stop of baked clay. It is held against the inner surface by the left hand while the right hand taps the rather rough and thick surface from outside with shaping stick to give a right form to a pot. Usually any patterns and designs are imprinted on pot at this stage. The pots when finished have round bottom with overturned rim. They are then dried in the sun for days together before firing.

 

b) Firing of the pots

The month of December and January are chosen for making and firing of pots. Generally, firing of pots is done outside the village at about sun-set or early morning to avoid fire from spreading.

To fire the pots, a low platform of dried bamboo about 10cms from ground is built. On this, layers of pots are laid upside down and dried bamboo reeds are piled on them covering from all sides. Then it is fired.

 

c) When to use

The baked pot, when required, may be fired again by heating the pot over the hearth with the paddy husks inside it. When it is properly cooled, a cup of rice water is poured into it and boiled till the rice water overflows. The burning of husks and boiling of rice water in the pot before use, removes the taste of newly baked clay and ensures durability.

finished pots prepared by Phom Potters

 

Wood-Carving

Wanchos, Konyaks and Phom tribes are some of the finest wood-carvers in the entire frontier area. Wood-carving finds expression mainly under three heads- firstly with headhunting, secondly with the decoration of the morungs or men`s communal houses, and thirdly, the funerary images erected or other important person.

 

Head Hunting

The practice of head-hunting which was of fundamental cultural and religious importance has completely disappeared. But substitutes have been devised. Like the Wanchos still have the custom of hiding a wooden dummy in the fields of old enemy; the young men hunt and kill it only to return in triumph and get ready for marriage. In carving the human figure emphasis is laid on the head by the artists. The features are carved in low relief and are fairly realistic. The tops of the head are round and usually have some indication of haircut. Tattoo marks are carefully represented, most figures are dressed up with little bits of cloths and even ornaments, and with tufts of hair or beads in the ear.

 

Morung

A second important source of inspiration is the need for decorating the morung for the purpose of prestige and magic. The morung is the centre of male social life, it is a dormitory for the young unmarried men. Morung are guard-houses, recreational clubs and centres of education and have an important ceremonial purpose. Morung may vary in function and size from tribe to tribe. There is no single pattern of architecture for the building. Morung pillars are adorned and carved in high relief in large and life size with Human being, tigers, elephants, hornbills, Pythons, mithuns and other designs. According to a Konyak belief carved tiger in morungs means the boys would be ferocious, elephants to make them strong and hornbill to make them fertile. The working tools are of primitive types consisting of the dao, the axe, the adze and the chisel.

 

The third type of images is associated with the funerary procedure. Whichever way the tribes may find to dispose of their dead, the tomb is surely made, which is loaded with the possessions of the deceased. Wanchos, Konyaks and Phom still make wooden effigies for their dead. Some of the effigies are provided with horns on either side of the head. Hutton, says that it was the practice for the skull to be placed between them so that the soul might pass into wooden figure. The skull is removed later and given its final resting place in a special pit lined with stone or in a sand -stone urn carved with figures of men and animal. After the proper rites have been performed the image ceases to be `live` and can be thrown away.

The mortuary art is generally crude. Only occasionally is there any attempt to carve the entire figure.

 

Kharu ( the wooden-gate)

 

Apart from these wood-carving another type of interesting wooden-work seen in an Angami village are Kharu`s the wooden gate. The wooden-gates were in the past used as barricade of the Khels (the local unit of the village in which village is divided.) A single solid piece of the wood was used to make thick solid gates or Kharu. Each Kharu was engraved with motifs, symbolizing an increase in population of the Khels and of its mithunas.
Log-drums

Miniature Log-drum

 

Wooden log-drums or huge wooden gongs are one of the amazing creation of the Aos, the Konyaks, the Sangtams, the Phoms,the Changs and the Khiamngan and the Yimchungers.The size of the log drum varies from place to place. They are hollowed out from a single tree trunk sometimes as much as 12 meters and 3 meters in circumference, carved at one end with huge figure head leaving a long slit on the top running down the whole length of the body of the drum. It involves observance of rituals or rules like working in jungle till the process of making log-drums is finished.

Even when the log-drum is ready a special day is fixed for pulling the log-drum from the jungle.The drum pulling ceremony is one of the greatest ceremonies.It is celebrated by singing, dancing, shouting and dragging the drum to the sacred place usually installed by the side of the morung or the morung hall.

In the past, log-drums were used for war- purposes- to announce the approach of an enemy and retreat. During the Lunar and Solar eclipse, the drum was beaten to mourn for the sun to rise again. 

Presently only a few villages have them. They are used to announce a festival or the death of a rich man, to raise an alarm when tiger is seen near a village or when the fire breaks out. Each occasion has its special rhythm which is beaten by a team of men on the log-drum, using large wooden dumb-bells. It is said to protect, guide and bless its worshippers. That is why it is called the village deity also.

 

Blacksmithy

Type of Spears

Blacksmithy is the second most important craft particulary of Angamis. The smiths produce dao, axe, sickle, knives, spear etc. The Rengmas are considered the best Naga blacksmiths. In the olden days Rengmas were probably the only Naga tribe who smelted iron by boiling and heating the stone, which contained iron-sand. For the melting process of iron Rengmas, Angamis, Lothas use a broken earthern pot. Iron contents are boiled till it turns into a solid mass and becames red hot. It is then taken off, laid on furnace and moulded into a flake by a certain process of hammering. A stone hammer is used in the process of lumping. Thus by repeating the process of lumping, the metal is ready before it is turned out into different weapons, implements and furniture.

Nagas are deeply attached to their weapons. Probably because their survival in the past depended on it. The spear and dao are important weapons of Nagas. The shape and pattern of both vary from tribe to tribe. A complete spear is of iron. It is used in hunting and war.

The spears used for ceremonial purposes are decorated with goat`s hair on the shaft.  The dao is a multi- purpose weapon. It is used for cutting trees and fowls, chopping meat, carving-wood and killing enemies. It consists of blade and wooden - handle.
Musical instruments
The Trumpet 

The trumpet is one of the oldest musical instruments used by different people of different countries for different purpose. It is considered the king of musical instrument. Trumpet is very popular with Nagas. Different types and shapes of trumpets are used by different Nagas. Traditional materials like thin bamboo, buffalo horns, mithun horns etc are used. Usually Nagas preserve the horns while slaughtering animals. They cut out the horns with an axe and dao, atleast an inch from the pointed end so that the hole can be pierced. Which is then used for blowing horn. 

In case of bamboo trumpet, a bamboo is cut about 4 to 5 feet with two nodes on upper and centre point. The lower is end is opened. A hole is made on the centre node with the help of a spear blade to enable the sound to pass through the hole making the musical tone under the control of the tongue. On the upper end of the node a short bamboo pipe is fixed through a hole. One has to only blow this pipe or trumpet. A type of trumpet which is called Thetsu is made from Thetsu plant. It is neither a bamboo nor wood and is grown in the muddy places. It full of nodes and holes. There are different functions of trumpet. Like when there is attack by enemy on the village, the gate-keeper immediately blows the trumpet to signal male members to get ready to face the enemy. After the warrior returns home victorious, the message is circulated by blowing the trumpet. Normally the villages, which do not use log-drums use the trumpet for passing on information to the village. Trumpet is also used during festivals and dance as a symbol of fun and playful enjoyment.

The Drum

Drum is one of the leading instruments of the Nagas. In the absence of drum playing, the fun of music, dance and festive spirit may remain lifeless and incomplete. There are different types and sizes of the drum to meet the specific requirement of the ritual occasion.
The first step in the process of making drum is to chop seasoned or dried wood atleast above two feet long with its circumference about two and half feet. Both the ends are made little smaller than the middle portion and therefore it turns into oval shape. After this, a hole is made as big as possible so that it could produce musical sound. It is then covered with leather or cow`s skin and stitched tightly around the holes with cane fibre carefully. When the skin gets dried, it hardens and thus becomes ready for use.
The functions of drums are manifold. It controls the movement of dance and provides a certain rhythm. If a leader of the Khel or village dies, the drum is played to pay respect and homage to the departed soul. Drum is also beaten during lunar and solar eclipse as the belief is that Sun and Moon are sometimes eaten by tiger so to save the Sun and Moon the people pray to goddess Lichaba by beating the drum.

Ornaments
a) Miniature trophy masks 

are worn as a pendant in a necklace by Naga warriors. They are symbolic of their bravery as headhunters. According to a Naga belief, the human soul is divided into two parts, known in the Wanchu dialect as Yaha (the animated aspect) and mio(the spiritual aspect).When a Naga dies, the yaha travels to the land of the dead while the mio remains in the village. An abundance of mio is considered beneficial to the prosperity and feritility of the Naga tribals and the crops they grow. In the ancient times the Nagas believed the mio resided in the head, therefore, the heads of the dead were preserved and displayed with pride. 
Some of the heads were brought by head-hunters after killing the enemy as trophy head. With perhaps the passage of time, miniature replicas of trophy mask were carved out and they began to represent the mio, assuring the wearer the health, fertility, prosperity and success in hunting. Trophy mask were handed down from one generation to another.

 

b) Necklace -

Beed Necklace

 

Traditionally both sexes enjoy wearing colourful ornaments. Their ingenuity lies in amalgamating the seemingly unpromising foreign objects to their own use with admirable inventivness and taste. Broken tumblers of thick glass were turned into ear ornaments and colourful glass rade beads were strung on cords of local fibres fastened by coins. The different coloured beads in indigo, orange and purple blend well with other ornamenent and gives it a typically Indian flavour.

c) Bracelets and Bangles

 

The beauty of Naga bracelet and bangles is exquisite.They are a fine example of excellent craftsmenship. Sawed from the wide end of tusk, then shaped and stained to bring out the superb grain of the ivory and rubbed for lifetimes against wearers skin until the inner edges took on a jewel like transparency.

d) Cowerie Shells -

Shells are inseperable part of Naga culture.Perhaps remniscent of distant past lived by the Bay of Bengal. Nagas have used them to make different ornament, occasionally commissioning brass workers to cast their forms in metal.

 

Glossary
Morung-Men`s club house in a Naga Village dormitory for the young unmarried men. Some tribes also have a small houses for the unmarried women. The Morungs are guard houses, recreation clubs and centres of education, art and discipline and have an important ceremonial purpose. Many house the great wooden log drums which are beaten to summon villages for war or to announce a festival. Formerly skulls and other trophies of war were hung in the morung, and the pillars are still carved with striking representation of tigers, hornbills, human figures etc.

Mithun-Bos frontalis- a semi domesticated variety of Indian bison kept by many Assam hill tribes for sacrificial purpose for meat cooked during festival. In some of the tribes, it is used almost as currency to settle a marriage or pay fine.

Khel-A part of a village usually occupied by one clan.

Thetsu- is a plant which neither bamboo nor wood and is grown on marshy land.

Mio-The spiritual aspect of human soul.

Yaha-The animated aspect of human soul.

 

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