The Art of Weaving in the Eastern Himalayan Mountains Part II: ‘The Himalayan Tribal Welfare Society’

Artisan Techniques and Craft: Part 2

Last month, I introduced you to Anthony Jonnom from a tribe in the Eastern Himalayas, he asked me to write an article post on weaving in his village; the last post explored woven fabrics and this week, woven miscellaneous items such as bags, hats and baskets.

Basket weaving is a process of interlacing malleable materials such as Cane and Bamboo into three-dimensional articles. The history of basket weaving is profuse, yet, the exact year and location that basket weaving was conceived is indeterminable; it is a craft that is widespread, furthermore, the materials used biodegrade over time.

The availability of Cane is shrinking whilst the demand for it is increasing, this is one of the reasons why Bamboo is used as an alternative – it has the closest composition to cane. Bamboo is a type of Grass; it grows rapidly, especially during the wet monsoon months where it can grow 45-50cm per day and can reach heights of around 40 meters.1 Craftsmen typically use bamboos that are 4-6+ years old, although they are firmer and therefore harder to work with, it is believed that their products have a longer life-span with bamboos cut at this age.2 Usually, bamboo are harvested just before the month of October, it is surmised that any earlier disturbs their growing period and that between the months of June-October they are prone to insect and microorganism infestations: “Those harvested during the dark half of the lunar month last but those harvested during the bright half do not last… the attack from insects and microorganisms has some connection with the season of harvesting”3

Anthony’s village use Bamboo and Cane which are home grown. The stages of preparing the strips for weaving are as follows:

  1. Harvest the plant during a full moon
  2. Stand the bamboo vertically for a week to drain away any water
  3. Smoke the bamboos 
  4. Remove the outer layer and dirt from the skin
  5. Cut them into lengths
  6. Remove any nodes
  7. Peel the skin to make the strips smoother
  8. Cut the bamboos into required widths
  9. Further peeling of the strips into required shallowness
  10. Further smoothening of the strips

Planting and harvesting in tangent with the cycles of the Moon is an ancient technique that was adopted by many farmers across the world. In the article, “The Roman Farmer and The Moon” Tavenner explains that: “for as the moon increases, so shall the planted crop or orchard increase.”4 and in that instance: “we should expect to find him harvesting his crop by the waning moon, in order that, as the moon decreased in size, so his harvested crops might go through a uniform drying or curing process without rotting.”5

Once the initial process is completed, the strips are finally woven together; typically it takes one and a half hours to weave one basket, the most experienced weavers can make up to four baskets a day.6 The dexterity of this practice is clear and defined in the compactly woven structure of the items – they are beautiful examples of craftsmanship that are designed to last generations.

Anthony works alongside the ‘Himalayan Tribal Welfare Society’ to promote the creations of his village. There are many problems faced by the Arunachal tribes when selling their items in mainland India which is prompting Anthony to sell nationwide instead – I shall keep you updated on when and where you can buy these creations.

Please check out ‘The Himalayan Tribal Welfare Society’ to learn more:

Further Reading:

Ghosh, G. K. (2008). Bamboo: The Wonderful Grass. New Dehli: S. B. Nagia A.P. H Publishing Corporation. – Please check out this brilliant book dedicated to the research of Bamboo, specifically pages 45-51, it shines a light on the problems of Bamboo extraction; deforestation, privatisation and the open market. The author G. K. Ghosh, also initiates a dialogue for creating an ecological sustainable bamboo policy.

Works Cited:

  1. Ghosh, G. K. (2008). Bamboo: The Wonderful Grass. New Dehli: S. B. Nagia A.P. H Publishing Corporation.
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. Tavenner, E. (1918). The Roman Farmer and the Moon. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 49, 67-82. doi:10.2307/282995
  5. Ibid
  6. Panda, H. (2000). Bamboo Plantation and Utilization Handbook. Kamla Nagar, Delhi: Asia Pacific Business Press Inc.

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