Art and Craft of the Nagas
The Nagas have a rich tradition of art and craft rooted in a lifestyle that has always
been harmony with the environment they live in. Skilled tribal craftsman and artisans have
always been the pillars of a tribal society that had, for many centuries, been
self-sufficient. They lent their skills to creating items of utility as well those with
ritualistic and aesthetic value. To quote Dr. Verrier Elwin; they have made their
own cloth, their won hats and rain-coats; they have prepared their own medicines, their
own cooking-vessels, their own substitutes for crockery
. Skilled craftsmen
were employees to carve splendid village gates, house posts and Morungs in Naga villages.
Fine storage baskets, wicker drinking vessels and containers were woven by craftsmen whose
skills had been inherited from generations of skilled craftsmen.
It was these craftsmen, weavers and artisans who foraged the forest in search of wood,
barks, dyes and other resources that were utilized to carve out fine works of art and
weave colorful clothes that distinguished each Naga tribe.
The various crafts and art that were
known to the early Nagas and are still carried out to this day are;
||1) Basketry : Naga
storage and carry baskets women from fine strips of cane and bamboo are well known and
sought after for their utility as well as aesthetic value. The cane baskets of Khonoma
village are particularly well know for their intricate weaves. The cane baskets and
containers woven by the Khiamngan weavers in the Tuensang District are also known for
their fineness and delicacy of work that gives it a lace-like appearance. Headgears and
mats are also woven from fine bamboo and cane strips. In the recent years, entrepreneurs
have utilized the skills of these craftsmen to weave beautiful cane furniture that are
being marketed in the local as well as outside market.
2) Weaving: Naga
women are excellent weavers and the colorful shawls, bags and jackets woven by them are
extremely popular. The backstrap or the loin loom is commonly used for
weaving, although, in recent years the fly shuttle loom has become popular with the
weavers. Each tribe uses distinguishing colors and motifs that are often based on tribal
folklore. Earlier, natural dyes extracted from barks, roots and plants were used for
dyeing cotton yarn and woven fabrics. In addition, woven cloth was embellished with beads,
cowrie shells and goats hair to denote the wealth and status of the weaver. Body cloth
symbolizing Feast-giving and Head-taking added to the variety of clothes woven on the
The art of weaving is still popular
amongst the Naga women, especially in the rural areas and the woven products of Nagaland
have found its way into the National as well as International marker.
|3) Woodcarving : Nagas
are excellent woodcarvers. Making using of simple rudimentary tools and implements such as
the local dao, hand drill and chisel, skilled craftsmen produce great works of art that
local adorn village gates and house posts as well as objects of utility like the common
wooden dish. One of the finest specimen that epitomizes the skill of the Naga craftsman is
to be found at Shangnyu village in Mon District. The work of art at Shangnyu consists of a
massive wooden panel that has carvings depicting objects of art as well as those of ritual
and utility value.
has now been commercialized and craftsmen have been able to use their traditional skills
to generate income for themselves. The Diezephe Craft village in Dimapur District is a
good example of a cragft concentrated village where the major sourse of income is from
4) Pottery : Pottery
was known to the early Nagas and was mostly done by the womenfolk. The pots made were
generally very simple and importance was given to its functional value rather than
aesthetics. Tseminyu and Ungma village were well known for pottery by aluminum and steel
vessels have long replaced the simple clay pots.
5) Metal work : Iron tin
and brass were used to produce weapons as well items of utility and ornaments. The Konyak
blacksmiths were famous for their works in the early days and their products were in great
demand in the plains of Assam. To this day, the local dao, spears, chisels, ornaments and other items of utility are still made by local
blacksmith whose skills are highly valued in society.
addition, jewellery and beadwork is also popular with local craftsmen. Naga festivals are
a testimony to the fascination and love the Naga tribesmen have for art and craft. The
color and beauty of the traditional attires symbolize the wealth and status of the wearer
as well as the skill of the maker. The abundance of raw material, the splendid environment
and the inherent skills of the people have all played a role in generating a rich history
of art and craft in Nagaland. The resurgence of art and craft in recent times has enable
the traditional craftsman and artisan to earn as he creates.