Crafts of Arunachal Pradesh

 

 

Arunachal Pradesh is a state where the traditional handicrafts are made since ages and are the product which are much in demand within the country as well as abroad, where they have gained popularity. Of the handicrafts of Arunachal the most important is bamboo and cane craft followed by handloom weaving, woodcarving and carpentry, ivory and metal crafts, and pottery and blacksmithy.

Bamboo and Cane Craft

Arunachal Pradesh is famous for its cane and bamboo crafts practiced throughout the state by its tribes at the household level. The heavy rainfall and temperate climate has assured an abundance of bamboo and cane in the region over the ages. It is not surprising then that the tribal population came to depend on these materials almost exclusively for constructing their dwellings, utensils, furniture, and even weapons such as bows and arrows, spears, armor, and implements like dibbles, hunting and fishing traps.

Apart from these traditional uses, bamboo and cane are crafted dexterously into colorful basket mats, cane belts, attractive smoking pipes, combs, and a variety of household tools and implements.

The newcomer to this state will find the use of bamboo as water carriers, spoons, mugs, plates and jugs and trays made of this 'wonder shoot'-a welcome transition from the mundane world of plastic and metal cutlery and crockery!

Yet another use the tribes put bamboo to is in making jewelry out of it. Tribal women wearing rings and headbands made of cane are a common sight in Arunachal Pradesh.

The Hill Miris, Adis, Monpas, Sherdukpens, Apatanis, Mishmis, Noctes, Wanchos Nishis and Tangas are especially dexterous in making fine, colourful and attractive cane and bamboo items. Of these, the Adis and Mishmis are considered good engineers-the former having once built a 500-feet-long suspension bridge over the Dibang River.

Weaving

Weaving, the exclusive premise of the tribal women of the state, is yet another important household industry. The equipment used is a simple reedless loom where the actual weaving is done with a bamboo tube. Besides cotton and wool, some of the Arunachal tribes use bark fibres extracted from trees like udal, pudu and grasscloth (B[oe]hmeria nivea). Similarly, in the sphere of dyes, one finds an abundant use of natural dyes.

The influence of Tibetan, Burmese, Bhutanese and Assamese cultures is easily apparent here. The Tibetan and Bhutanese influence is most pronounced in the Monpa loom on which the Monpa women weave with cotton, wool and bark fibre. They are well known for their fine and colourful coats, shawls, sashes, carpets, bags and tapes (for tying around hats). Unlike the Monpa women, the Sherdukpen womenfolk use only cotton and plant fibre but no wool.

The Nishis grow a large amount of cotton in the valley of Palin and Panior. Though the Nishi women are not regarded as expert weavers, they do produce woven cotton and pudu fibre skirts, blankets and cloth.

The Apatanis are traditionally the most advanced weavers of the state producing excellent ceremonial coats and shawls, and embroidered cotton cloth. Many tribes such as the Nishis, Hill Miris, Akas, Bugums and Mijis also depend on the Apatanis for their supply of cloth.

The Adi women weave wool, cotton, and goats' hair to produce attractive items. The Mishmis too have acquired a good reputation in the art of weaving, as indicated by the commercial demand for their items. The Mishmi women weave cotton, wool, plant fibre and human hair into a variety of clothes. In fact, the Mishmi coat has found a wide market within and outside the state.

Singpho weaving is famous for its artistic patterns. Similarly, the Tangas are reputed for their spun-dyed clothes out of which they make handbags, skirts and lungis (loin cloths). Both the Tanga and Singpho women are known for their expertise in making artistic ceremonial costumes.

Woodcraft and Carving

The practice of woodcarving and allied crafts is part of a long tradition among a number of tribal communities in Arunachal Pradesh. The main center for woodcarving and woodcraft in the state is the Wancho area of Tirap district. The Wancho woodcarvings can be classified under three main categories. The first are those connected with headhunting; the second with the decoration of the Morungs or men's communal houses; and the third with the funerary images of different animals. The Monpas, Sherdukpens, Mombas, Khambas and Bugums produce different types of masks-often painted with colors. The Khamtis especially are well known for their beautiful wooden images of Lord Buddha.

Ivory and Metal Craft

Ornaments made of brass, bone, ivory, silver, and gold are also crafted using a set of simple tools by many of the tribes here. The Monpas and Sherdukpens are well known as traditional silversmiths. They even supply silver ornaments to other tribal groups like the Khowas, Mijis and Akas. The Nishis and Sulungs have perfected the art of brass smithy. They dexterously craft ornaments, dishes, sacred bells and smoking pipes out of this metal. Similarly, the Khamtis work mainly in gold, iron, silver and ivory, though their products were mainly meant for use within their own tribe.

Because of the availability of cane and wood in Arunachal, pottery never gained popularity. Another reason for its relative underdevelopment is the non-availability of suitable clay in this region. However, several tribes like the Monpas, Sherdukpens, Apatanis, Nishis, Noctes, Wanchos, Adis, Khampas, and Mombas practise the art. Among the pottery work, the beautiful clay images of Lord Buddha made by the Monpas, Mombas and Khampas are especially mentionable.

Blacksmithy

While blacksmithy is not very popular in Arunachal Pradesh, the Adis are well known for their expertise in this trade. They are known to produce various weapons and implement from iron. Among the other tribes, the Mishmis are known for their arrowheads and knives, the Singphos for their daos (which are famous all over the state), the Noctes, Wanchos and Tangas for their forges, and the Nishi blacksmiths for their skills in casting and smelting. In contrast to these, one can mention the iron bracelets made by the Apatanis-perhaps the only item of jewelry made by the blacksmiths here.

Two things are specially worth mentioning about the crafts of Arunachal Pradesh. First, the tribal communities make use of easily available natural resources as the raw materials for their traditional crafts. Second, these traditional crafts are highly popular in contemporary times. Without doubt, the traditional crafts of Arunachal Pradesh appear to be all set to make their mark in times to come.


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