In the north-east of our country is the land of the Mizos, Mizoram. The southern-most state in the region, shares state lines with Assam, Manipur, and Tripura and international boundaries with Bangladesh and Myanmar.
An achingly beautiful Mizoram comprises rolling hills covered in ancient, untouched forests of bamboo and tropical trees, interspersed with tumbling rivers, serene lakes, and vast valleys. Its people, from various ethnic tribes, deeply attached to their territory, mark themselves separate by the colours and motifs of their textiles. Their ancient traditions of weaving on the loin loom exist to date, and the Mizo people are skilled weavers, especially women.
The textiles of Mizoram constitute one of the region's most influential art and crafts. Thenzawl, in Serchhip district, 43 km from the capital Aizwal, is often called Handloom City, with its products reaching across the country and abroad. Among the many types of cloth weaving, making the plan, a weave that is typically a couple of feet wide as it is long is the norm. Nowadays, worn mainly by women, each type of puan has a different colour, motif, and purpose. It takes a week to finish a plain puan on the loin loom and a month or so to complete one with a pattern.
Such is the exclusivity of the woven textile of Mizoram that recently, the Government of India granted the Geographical Indication (GI) tag to five of the state's weaves: The puanchei, hmaram, tawlhlohpuan, ngotekherh, and pawndum. The GI tag is a huge step forward for the weavers, as they now have a stable platform to sell their products at a higher market price, leading to their economic stability.
One of the most colourful weaves of the Mizo people is the puanchei. Its benchmark is that its weaving has to be finer than any other Mizo puan and done in a manner that the appearance of the pattern on both sides should be almost indistinguishable.
The oldest patterned weave of the Lusei tribe, the hmaram is a narrow weave. It is used as a wraparound skirt, by women, during festive dances and official ceremonies. The motifs on hmaram are derived from the flora of Mizoram. One of its scales is that it can consist of only one motif.
A tough puan to weave, the tawlhlopuan, meaning "to stand firm or not move backward," is named after a Mizo soldier. The puan is medium to heavy, compactly woven, and known for its warp yarn, weaving, and intricate designs.
Also known as the puanhruih for the transverse stripes on the cloth, the ngotekherh has a plain white base with two narrow black stripes, which are sewn along the edges. One of its yardsticks is that the chequered pattern in ngotekherh must be uniform such that each chequer must be a perfect square.
The name pawndum means a dark cloth with a red stripe running through it. It used to be worn by men, especially when dancing the khuallam, a traditional Mizo dance. It is reported that the pawndum takes on different names according to its purpose. When gifted with affection and respect during a formal relationship, it is called zawlpuan, and when it is used as a shroud, it is named thihrin puan. A standard for this weave is that it must have the colours red and black as the most prominent and can contain colour combinations only with red, green, blue, pink, yellow, and black.
The upliftment of the handloom industry, by any means necessary, is imperative, as it leads to the financial stability of the chain of people involved in the production process. The economies of entire regions can change for the better through heavy investment, followed through with the implementation of support in acquiring raw materials, finances, etc. Granting a GI tag is one step in the right direction.
For more information, contact Mizoram House at Shillong, Silchar, Guwahati, Kolkata and New Delhi, or check the website, and here, and this.
Related: Mizoram: Land Of The Hill People.
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