Society

The women weavers of Shakuripara

When Rema Kumar spent a week in Shakuripara last year, what impressed her was the attitude of the women in this remote village in Sonapur, Assam.

For the women of the Mishing tribe, weaving is just another household chore. “Every house has a loom. But the women spend less time weaving as many factors such as weather (heavy rains or floods), strenuous work for the household and active participation in village (community) activities takes much of their time,” she said, at an exhibition in Chennai where she was promoting her eponymous label.

Kumar was commissioned by Mulberry — a non-profit organisation working towards promoting weaving in the area for the last 16 years — to work with these tribes. “The weaving tradition of this tribal community is unique. It is gradually becoming extinct. The beauty of their weaves is impossible to be replicated in a powerloom,” Kumar says.

She adds, “The community stands united, and celebrates 13 festivals in a year. This is partly why weaving takes a back seat. If concerted efforts are taken, this art can be preserved.” Kumar goes on to state, “In this community, the seniormost woman, who is the master weaver, keeps the others motivated by singing songs about the power of unity. I observed them; I think they are strong, cheerful and resilient. But I wish they could spend few hours every day in the loom so that this distinctive art form can be saved.”

Traditionally, they have only been weaving their mekhla chador: a two piece outfit in silk. Agencies like Mulberry are trying to train them to adapt their weaving to a sari. As they have been weaving only silk (muga or eri), training is provided on handling cotton yarn.

Currently, the Shakuripara women weave cotton fabrics for Fab India and a few other brands. “Cotton yarn is sourced and given to them when an order is placed. Design intervention and innovative ideas are provided. We are also imparting training in natural dyeing and linen weaving. The master weaver makes the first sample and then it is passed on to the other women in the village for further production.”

The designers’ intervention is restricted only to adapt the weaving to saris and using cotton. The motifs are traditionally geometric florals: first made into graphs, and then translated on to the extra weft. It almost looks like embroidery done on the loom, with the help of nangal and drawbow.

Kumar says she was naturally drawn towards the geometric motifs of Shakuripara. “Instead of the traditional colours — beige, orange, red — they were used to, I introduced a different colour scheme,” says Kumar.

“Classic off white, classic black, pink, fuchsia, orange and yellow are the colour schemes that we used for sample saris. I even had to show them how a sari looks, by making one of them drape it.”

She says she worked with the five master weavers of the village to translate their weaving into a sari design. At the moment, she is in the process of creating samples.

“The lifestyle of these women is as beautiful as the fabrics they weave,” says Kumar, “Looms are placed outdoors, in the backyards. Women weave for relaxation in the afternoon, singing and gossiping with one another, surrounded by cattle.”

Even though the community is open to the idea of taking up weaving as alternate profession, as another source of income, their responsibility in households and the pressure from family keeps them away. But the situation is expected to gradually improve in the years to come.

The Karbi collection, as Kumar calls it, will be launched next summer.

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Printable version | Jan 14, 2021 8:01:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/the-women-weavers-of-shakuripara/article24615833.ece

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