For the Angami tribe of Nagaland, weaving is not just a craft, it is a way of life; A passion pursued, especially by women, at the home loom and an art of the few; a skill that they feel so deeply about that they compete with each other to achieve excellence. The Angami style of weaving takes its name from the tribe that practices it. The women of the tribe, however well educated, must have the knowledge of this skill as it is a tradition of prestige and is passed down from the mother to the daughter!
The products woven are traditionally woolen shawls and wraps that are adorned by members of the tribe on special occasions. Historically, the traditional Angami shawl is a symbol of bravery, a black woollen shawl with bold animal motifs embroidered onto its surface. The wild animals are symbolic of the head-hunting tradition that the tribe is known for. Woven onto the plain run of the fabric are bands of color in red and green.
In fact, to gift a piece specially crafted at one’s own home for friends and family in honour of important events like weddings, is considered a matter of pride. But it is left to the family’s discretion whether they want to make and sell these products in the market. If made commercially, they retail from anything between INR 2,000 and INR 10,000, depending on the design and the quality of the wool used.
Simple as it sounds, the process is truly dexterous. It starts off with washing the wool with tapioca pearls, or what we locally call “sabudana”. The dried wool is then spun and drawn into yarn, longitudinally with wooden supports arranged laterally to form the structure of the fabric. The loom is specially designed for this purpose and requires a unique skill-set in order to be used with precision.
Ensuring independence to this skill practiced by women is the fact that it is complemented by men who are specialized in carpentry. This way the women never run out of tools to sustain the longevity of this craft.
Angami comes in several styles but the most popular one worn by women is the Lorumhoushu, a white base with red and black bands and the Lohe that is a black base with red and yellow bands. A unisex style is a black shawl called the Ratapfe. You will see men adorn the Kilt, which is a plain black cloth that has embroidery made with cowries in 3 to 4 lines and for the priest, it is a specially made, distinctive Phichu-pfe.
Over time, the method has been modified to a certain degree but today, there are only a handful of villages that still maintain the same method that was used decades ago. The Angami style of weaving is a true craft of the soul that has not been commercialized. It is something that is enjoyed and remains a matter of pride.