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International Loinloom Festival 2019 - 6th Edition

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

6th International Loinloom Festival Dec 6 to 7, 2019 Diezephe, Nagaland

The 6th International Loinloom festival was held on Dec 6-7 2019 at Diezephe. It was organized by Exotic Echo Society in collaboration with Dept of tourism, Govt of Nagaland, and other partners.


History and Context

The exotic Echo society was set up in 2008 in order to revive the whole chain of loinloom based textile production, using locally grown indigenous tree cotton, dyed naturally and woven using the traditional loinloom based home production method. The founders have taken great care in treating tribal design motifs with respect, and using the local culture and environment as inspiration for a more contemporary design expression. The producers are paid fair wages, and provided with healthcare and other benefits.

The loinloom festival, now in its 6thedition, was created to showcase the uniqueness of the regional practice, and increase awareness and respect for this mode of textile production. It serves to heighten awareness of not just the loom but also the associated culture that has nurtured it, along with the traditional skills of spinning, dyeing and embroidery.

Day 1

1. Introduction

Ms Haiyale Kath Zhimomi welcomed the gathered participants from Nagaland, and handed over the charge of conducting the program to Ms Vitono Gugu Haralu.

2. Welcome Address

Mr Velasuzo Shijoh, Board Member, Diezephe Village Council, extended a welcome to the participants, and spoke about the importance of holding the event in Diezephe. He appreciated the efforts of Exotic Echo in their efforts toward honoring the weavers and traditions of the community.

3. Welcome Song & Prayer

This was followed by a prayer of festival dedication, by Mrs. Ajungla Apon, of the Rengma Baptist Fellowship. She asked the lord to bless all the participants, and to continue to support the good work being done in the village by Exotic Echo.

The festival opened with a rousing welcome song by Yoruba women weavers group. They performed a piece that symbolized the act of planting rice seedlings, and served to remind the gathering of the fact that nurturing the craft of loinloom weaving is similarly an act of long term significance and vital impact.

4. Keynote Address

Mr Mohan Rao, President, National Federation of Handloom and Handicraft Workers, then addressed the audience to deliver the Chief Guest’s address. He said the loinloom festival is a confirmation of preserving the technique and practice of traditional knowledge for future generations. The loinloom is a simple affordable loom, yet at the same time it requires sophisticated analytical and mathematical skills to operate it. Apart from being a vital means of livelihood, its immense historical significance as a traditional practice demands that we ensure its continuity. The loinloom is essential to strengthening local economies and helps in promoting economic democracy. This helps to protect communities from the uncertainties of international markets and global competition. It faces a huge threat from the powerloom sector and rampant mechanization. This is a time of transition for loinloom weavers in the northeast, in terms of moving from a traditional home based, low volume production to a more market oriented, commercial approach. Hence it is necessary to formulate a well designed system to ensure a smooth transition to a long term sustainable model.

He assured the participants that the NFHH will take up the issues of loinloom weavers on a priority basis and advocate for them at the national policy level.

His address highlighted several important issues:

1. He said that the loinloom is the mother of all handlooms, and acknowledged the umbilical cord that connects the two.

2. The need to organize all weavers and craft workers in order to work toward building a process of collective bargaining with the state. The vast majority of welfare benefits and schemes are not reaching the intended people, and there is an urgent need to sensitize policy makers and implementers to this matter in order to take corrective action.

3. The central government has at last recognized the loinloom and associated crafts under the registered occupation list. This is a long overdue and very important piece of legislation for the loinloom weaving community. Firstly it signifies that the government and ministry of textiles, recognizes that loinloom weavers are holders of craft knowledge and skill that is on par with other handloom traditions. The act of recognition can be used to bring loinloom weavers under the ambit of several welfare and benefit schemes. Sustained efforts of exotic Echo toward this cause have been an important factor in highlighting this issue.

5. Opening of Special Pavilion

The Director of Tourism, Govt. Of Nagaland congratulated the weavers and encouraged the younger generation of women to take the tradition forward. She spoke about how the hornbill festival now recognizes the loinloom festival and through the “retouch program” connects students to interact with our loinloom.

6. Weaver’s Dialogue

The morning session culminated with the Weaver’s Dialogue, moderated by Ms Gugu Haralu. The participants in the dialogue were:

Mr Mohan Rao, President NFHH

Ms. Sonnie Kath, Founder Exotic Echo

Mr Miathou Krose, Chairman, Nagaland Handloom and Handicrafts Development Corporation Ltd.

Ms Haiyale Kath Zhimomi, Exotic Echo.

Mr Manoj Kumar, Officer, Weaver’s Service Center, Dimapur

Ms Fumio Kobayashi, Calico Design Studio, Japan

Ms Juhi Pandey, Director Lady Bamford Foundation, Jaipur

Ms Vitono Gugu Haralu, Pathfinders, Dimapur

Weavers From Exotic Echo: Ms. Thukuvelu, Ms. Chizolu, Ms. Vekulu

The dialogue touched upon many themes with the focus being the current situation of the status of loinloom craft and workers in Nagaland. Mr Mohan Rao spoke about how private textile sector has got subsidies to the tune of Rs. 10,800 Cr.and hence collective bargaining was needed to voice the concerns of loinloom weavers against the threat of mechanization.

In the past 10 years, while the central government has provided 80,000 cr worth of funds for the technology upgradation fund in the textile sector, it has simultaneously lead to the loss of 25 lakh jobs in the sector. However it is a well known fact that the traditional sector provides far more jobs than the mechanized industrial units. He spoke about the need of government officials to create policy specifically tailored to the unique working conditions of Naga women, and the specific nature of loinloom craft and production.

Mr Krose, who modestly said that he has begun learning about the handloom sector since being appointed the director a year ago, said that it was an important area of work for the Government of Nagaland. The government feels that traditional craft can be major source of livelihood, and can also help bring in tourists. He also expressed a need to take action to set up a separate department of handlooms, since currently it was being treated as a step child in the dept of industry.

Ms Sonnie Kath outlined her vision to make loinloom weaving a mission in all of the northeast. She said that being a home based occupation, it is integral to all tribal communities and can serve multiple roles, in strengthening the community’s social fabric, and in helping women gain economic stability. Women from some of the land owning families weave during the off season for agriculture, whereas those who do not own land use weaving as a primary activity to support their families.

She spoke about the urgent need for weavers to be educated and increase their awareness and participation as citizens in a democracy. She also cited her experience of projects done in collaboration with Tata Trust toward training and capacity building. She further highlighted the need for policy to be developed keeping in mind unique demands of the craft and culture of the region. There was much emphasis on how government departments have repeatedly failed the artisans in helping them to gain access to the relevant schemes. She said that weavers are never consulted before forming policy at the state and central government level, and urged the officials to change this approach.

Ms. Juhi Pandey emphasized the uniqueness of the loinloom and the craft tradition of the area and how it was crucial to help it grow. She said modernization cannot be stopped but new ideas are needed to help promote traditional methods. She said that Nagaland has its own expression of clothing and fashion and need not be influenced by fast fashion trends from outside. She spoke about the need to revive natural fibers, organic dyes in order to effectively challenge commercial mass-market products. We need to come together, based on our common values and experiences, in order to form an effective collective voice.

Mr Manoj Kumar, said that the Weaver’s Service Center, Dimapur, was set up by Ministry of Textiles, Govt of India in the year 2015. It has several schemes but that individual weavers are not approaching the center to avail of the schemes. He encouraged the weavers to approach them in order to get the benefits of the center.

Ms Kobayashi spoke about how large scale industrialization and the consequent decline of craft production has now in turn lead to a renewed interest and appreciation for handmade products in Japan. But traditional practices are now being revived by applying innovative ideas and concepts. She appreciated the hard work and innovations of the weavers in exotic echo to be able to produce a diverse range of artisanal products. She also said that loinloom weaving practices are important to world heritage.

Ms Haiyale spoke about her experiences in chasing goverment officials to avail of the schemes. There has been a lot of buck passing without concrete action, and most of the time nothing emerges from all this effort.

There was a very active and sustained dialogue between the government officials and other panelists. Ms Pandey, Ms Kath, Mr Rao and others repeatedly emphasized that it is the government that needs to come to the service of the people and not vice versa. There was much cheering and support from the audience of women weaves to this.

Dr Rastogi, spoke eloquently about his experience in working on disability rights. He narrated an inspiring story of how the first mental health disability certificate was issued. He advised the family of a young woman who had been affected by mental health issues to file a complaint against him in the role of a government director stating that he was not issuing a disability certificate. When the matter was brought up before higher authorities, Dr Rastogi told them that no such provision existed in current government procedure under which he could issue the needed certificate. This in turn prompted the authorities to change the rules so that mental health conditions could be included in the disability list. He advised the government officials present there to be more activist in their approach, and look beyond the letter of the law so to the spirit of it, so that they could help the people attain what is rightfully theirs.

Ms Bano Haralu, Editor, Nagaland Today, spoke about the immense emotional significance of Naga textiles and the fact that every woman is a weaver and knew how to operate the loinloom. She said that people of Nagaland should also wake up and be more supportive of this precious heritage. She said that loinloom weaving has expanded from being a family tradition to being a valuable economic activity also, hence there is immense pressure on Naga women to play multiple roles in both supporting the household, and carrying on with tradition.

She also spoke about her experience in connecting loinloom weavers of multiple traditions, including from Bhutan, and the importance of solidarity among artisans and workers. In here experience of conducting exchange programs among loinloom weavers, she said that such programs helped them feel more connected to each other and renewed their faith in the practice

She recounted a moving anecdote of her elderly aunt, who said that God forbid the day should never come when the Naga people should be deprived of the handwoven shawl to lay their loved ones to rest.

Finally, three women weavers with Exotic Echo shared their experiences.

Ms Thukuvelu: She said that the sale of cheap second hand garments has severely impacted the market for traditional products as well affected the taste and aesthetic sensibility of the younger generation of Nagas. She also spoke about the effects of sustained hours of weaving on the body, she has suffered from back and shoulder pain due to spending more hours on the loinloom.

1. Ms Chizolu: She spoke about applying for a house construction benefit under the govt housing cum workshed scheme. Even though it is now over 2 years since she applied for it, nothing has emerged, and the scheme remains on paper.

2. Ms Vekulu: Spoke about government recognition for loinloom work, and how that would help them in feeling valued and part of the states economy.


Day 2: Weavers Dialogue

Make in India: To Make India the international hub of loinloom weaving.

Participants:

Ms Sonnie Kath

Mr Mohan Rao

Col Neel Biswas, Founder Exotic Echo

Ms Juhi Pandey

Mr Parvez Alam, Tata Trust, Guwahati

Moderator: Ms Gugu Haralu

Col Biswas introduced the session with the vision to make Diezephe the loinloom hub of India. Diezephe is already recognized as the living craft village of Nagaland.

Ms Sonnie addressed the weavers and asked them to be more aware of their rights, and understand that they are equal participants in the journey. The lack of recognition for the loinloom showed governmental ignorance towards the tradition. However she hoped that the recent announcement of recognition would lead to a change in attitudes.

She said that the since historically tribes did not have a script, woven textiles are an important record of the history of the culture of each tribe. She said that a lot of effort has been put into reviving the tradition and quality of loinloom textiles by Exotic Echo. The fact that India is the highest exporter of crafts in the world is a major source of hope toward further strengthening these traditions.

Ms Haralu spoke about her association with exotic echo thanks to her mother. In 13 years of the organization, she spoke about how the organization has helped develop weavers into confident and empowered individuals who are able to actively participate in the creative process. She said that Exotic Echo has emerged as an inspirational focal point for the larger vision of making Diezephe the loinloom hub by 2025. She said that the day weavers become aware of their rights, they will be able to more effectively engage with traders, designers and policy makers and not be subject to exploitation. She said the efforts of Exotic Echo and associated organizations will go a long way toward helping weavers realize that they are creative knowledge workers, and note merely a labour component of the production process. She said that by 2025, the loinloom festival will set the benchmark for Naga weaving.

Mr Parvez Alam, spoke about the need to stay true to ones culture. Awareness of culture indicates to the knowledge and practice of cultivating organic, local yarn, natural dyes, and handspun, handwoven cloth. He sees a lot of potential in Exotic Echo and the skills of the associated artisans. Mr Vishu, of Tata Trust also spoke about being true to local materials and finding expression through them helps to maintain authentic tradition.

Ms Pandey spoke about Make for Nagaland is an important goal to achieve, and to first create for local market before outside markets.

Contests

Two contests were organized to get the weavers to display their skills. It was a very heartening sight to see the young gen-next weavers being able to match their more experienced counterparts. There was a lot of laughter and mutual leg-pulling. The first prize was Rs 10,000, 2ndRs 5000, and consolation prizes of Rs 500 each.

The Festival ended with prize distribution by the judge Ms. Grace. Participants from outside Nagaland were impressed by the seamless organization and excellent facilities provided to them.


Interviews with weavers

Ms. Chizolu, Ms Vekholu:

Weaving has enabled us to take care of our families. Some of our husbands do not work, so we women are the sole bread winners. We started weaving when we very young and have now diversified into weaving various products such as home furnishings and fashion accessories. It has been an exciting journey to learn new skills and weaving techniques yet with our traditional foundation. Earlier we were working from home, so there used to be a lot of interruptions due to family chores. Weaving at the exotic echo center is however much more productive due to a focused approach.


A lot of the design inspirations come from the surrounding environment. For eg the Khuniopi motif which represents the head of an insect that is found in the white pumpkin. In our tradition women must know weaving and it is the mothers responsibility to clothe her immediate family members. Apart from weaving being our livelihood it is important to pass on the tradition to the next generation. But to make it attractive to them, we need to show them the possibilities of innovating with new designs. We are not allowed to tamper with the traditional tribal design, since the ownership of the design is with the community and not an individual Hence it is our responsibility to practice the weaving with sensitivity and responsibility. We like using and wearing both new and old designs.

Ms. Vepralu

The weavers spoke about how long hours at the loom have led to back pain and also pain in the knee, neck and shoulder regions. The repeated impact on the abdominal area have also lead to them experiencing pain in that region and related gynecological issues.

She said that she weaving as a gift from god and that any pain that she got from the process was also part of this experience hence she accepted it. They said they had not thought about how to modify the design of the loom or other technical ways to mitigate the pain. It was their conversation along these lines, and they felt they would need to reflect more within the community to address these issues.

Mr Mohan Rao suggested that perhaps a technical team from IIT might be able to suggest improvements to the ergonomics of loinloom design while keeping its essential character intact.


Ms. Grace Nienu:

Ms. Grace hails from the Adi tribe of the West Siang District of Arunachal Pradesh. She spoke about her early initiation into loin loom weaving as child, sneaking to weave at her aunt’s loom, and being shooed away. She learned to weave at the age of 11, and practiced weaving as her primary livelihood for many years.


For over two decades, she has woven traditional naga shawls and Mekhala, and supplied it to local marwari traders. She remembers being paid Rs 15 as weaving charges for her first Mekhala. Under the light of a petromax lamp (gifted by her brother) she would weave until 2am, 6 days a week, on occasion, in order to meet orders. This mode of working has left her with chronic lower back, and thigh pain, and nerve sensitivity, with the result that she does not weave anymore and finds it difficult to even sit or squat as she would formerly. She currently tends to the garden of a local government official and supports her family through this work.

Her daughter, Ms Vekholu, is employed with Exotic Echo and is one of their fastest weavers (she won the weaving contest this year). She said that Vekholu dropped out of school when in 8thclass, since she had learnt to weave by then, and found that she could make a good living in doing so.

She also spoke about her experience in extracting natural dyes in the hills of west Siang, and being taught the methods of extraction. She has particularly vivid memories of the orange and blue dyes that were extracted from the plants Tamhane, and Ligan.

Her husband works as pastor without a regular income, hence she is the primary breadwinner of the household.


Field Notes:

Compared to other loom technologies, a Loinloom is a basic loom technology which allows a strong interaction between the loom's complexities and weaver's intelligence -

1. As we know, each loom technology is suited for different levels of production. The Loinloom is a flexible technology wherein the loom settings can be rearranged for every piece. Hence, it offers huge potential for exclusive experiments (quite similar to a tapestry loom).

2. It offers immense scope to the weaver for design explorations.

3. A wide variety of motifs can be woven with the simple extra weft technique

4.It can offer engineered design layouts and placements.

5. It is an easy tool for new weavers and children to learn weaving.

6. It is a compact portable loom and can be carried and setup anywhere.

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