Tribal Textiles from the Naga of Burma

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Naga tribal textiles resonate with a primal quality. They are created using centuries old techniques and are adorned with ancient tribal motifs and dyed in natural earthy colours.The Naga textiles offered in our store are from Nagaland in India and from the Naga living over the border in Burma. Traditional Naga textiles were worn as shawls or wrapped around the waste. Today they are finding their way into homes as rich wall decorations, sofa throws and runners with great exotic appeal. Demand for their traditional textiles is providing a good source of income for the Naga as well as helping to preserve an important part of their culture in a fast changing world.                                                                                              

Ancient Sanskrit books speak of a golden skinned people of the sub-Himalayan region, thought to be ancestors of the present day Naga who occupied the mountains 2000 years ago. The Naga of which there are several tribes live in Northeast India and Burma, near the Indian/Burmese border. Throughout the various Naga tribes, more than a dozen diverse and sometimes mutually incomprehensible languages are spoken. The main tribal groups of the Naga include the Angami, Sema, Ao, Kaylo-Kengyu, Konyak, Lhota, Rengma, Tangkhul, Chang, Sangtam and Sema.

The Naga fiercely resisted British rule and became renowned for their strength, stamina and courage in battle. Their vibrant culture exemplifies an exotic society and Naga textiles and artefacts are resplendant with complex and deeply symbolic designs. Their rich tradition of textile weaving incorporates a variety of patterns or motifs to show social status, tribal belonging and wealth. The head hunting pattern that used to adorn body cloths has now become redundant, with the cessation of this practice. The production of textile weaving is the preserve of women. Both cotton and hemp are used to make the Naga textiles on hand looms using the back strap method. After the handspun thread has been woven into cloth, small patches are embroidered using a porcupine needle. A number of plant extracts are used to dye the cloth including indigo, mahogany and lacquer. Men and women wear body cloths rich in colour and design, each tribe having its own particular motifs. These patterns have specific and powerful symbolic meaning for the Naga and the right to wear them is strictly governed.

Naga society has undergone considerable change over the last few decades. Nagaland is pursuing a policy of economic and social 'modernization' and ancient traditions are falling by the way. Baptist missionaries have had a strong influence and today there are only pockets of animists determined to hold onto their ancient beliefs. We hope to help keep the wonderful tradition of textile weaving by the Naga alive by offering their handsome textiles on our site. Naga textiles sold in villages are in limited supply. Every Naga textile has some form of individualism and creativity, though patterns recur. Seldom are two textiles identical. The textiles are completely hand made so minor imperfections may be present, but this is part of the charm of items of this nature. We carefully handpick every textile offered to ensure the highest possible quality. Generally they are very well crafted and lend a warm, exotic ambience to a room. Naga textiles have long been sought after by collectors of tribal artefacts and textiles.

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