Textiles of Mizoram
There are a number of craftsman and skilled artisans among the Mizos. Weaving is an internal part of the Mizo culture and the women learn how to weave at an early age. Puans in numerous designs are produced by them on traditional lion looms. These are somewhat like lungis, usually about 45” to 48” in width and about 36” in length, worn by the women, and are their native dress, Puans are noted for their beautiful design and intricate embroidery which is invariably worked out along with the weave. Mizos have a wealth of motifs. The patterns of traditional puans are now being adopted with many fresh combinations. Mizo women also turn out shawl and their shoulder bags, which are quite attractive, and not too expensive considering their quality.
There is a combination of the Lion Loom and the fly shuttle loom in the development of the handloom industry of Mizoram.
The fly shuttle loom introduced to produce better fabrics of high-ranking members of the society. This complex loom helps the weaver in producing longer lengths of cloth of uniform quality. The loom consists of four large upright bamboo poles, each with a notch and tongue for carrying the front and the back rods. The four poles about 130 cm high are rectangular braced by small, horizontally placed bamboo poles, two each on the four sides.
Various parts of the loom are composed of the treadle, reeds, bamboo strips and wooden rods. Originally, two or more treadles were made for the insertion of the weaver’s feet. Later these were replaced by wooden mechanisms, to be pressed down with the feet. Pressing one treadle pulls up the other and vice-versa, thus making the shed.
The lion loom is used in Mizoram for making fabrics that is 16-22 inches wide and at times for making narrow strips of pile carpet and blankets. The warp threads are stretched between the warp beam anchored to the ground, a few feet away in front of the weaver, and a breast beam tied to a belt or back strap made of fabric or woven bamboo running behind the waist. The weaver sits on the ground and stretches the warp by pushing against the anchored beam with her legs. In a variant form of the back strap loom, the warp threads pass around the breast beam attached to the weaver’s waist, and around the upper and lower beams of an upright rectangular frame fixed to a wall. A continuous warp is looped alternatively forwards and backwards, round an axis rod, and passes around the non-revolving breast beam and warp beam. The breast beam is usually split lengthwise into two parts between which the web is gripped, the two parts being wound by a cloth. The heald made with thread wound on the bamboo, is used to separate the warp ends. The heald is raised and the warp threads open to form a shed. The weft is passed through this shed by means of a shuttle. For more complicated weavers, several types of healds, opening different sections of the warp may be used. Yarns in different colours are inserted, depending upon the shuttle. The beater is a heavy bar as wide as the web, with rounded edges and tapering down towards the weaver. It is used to regulate and compress the threads of the warp.
All dyeing is done by women, and it is ana, or forbidden, for men to take part in the operation, as it is believed that any man who touches dye or a cloth that is being dyed will be unable to shoot any game, and will be especially liable to suffer from consumption. The reason why participation in dyeing results in bad luck in the chase is rather complicated. Animals are terrified of blood, and consequently are very afraid of the women due to the menstrual flow. The hands of man who takes part if dying are strained with the blue dye, and the smell of the dye hangs about them. The souls of the wild animals scent this at once, and when such a man approaches, they associate him in their minds with women, become very frightened, and refuse to allow him to approach them. Hence, a man who helps his wife to dye cloth is always unlucky in the chase.
For dyeing the people of Mizoram, use blue and yellow colours generally. There are three methods of dyeing blue colour. The first is with the leaves of wild indigo (strobilanthes flaccidifolius). The leaves are boiled in water, and when they have been on the boil some time are taken out of the pot, squeezes into a wooden trough and placed on one side; the water from the pot is also poured into the trough. To this indigo water ashes are added and the thread to be dyed is placed in the trough and thoroughly kneaded in the dye. After this, the thread is taken out of the dye, wrung out and replaced in the trough, and the boiled-up indigo leaves, which were squeezed, into the trough are placed on top of it. The thread is left to soak for three days. After this it is wrung out and hung up in the sun to dry. After a month the process is repeated and again a month later, as unless the cloth is dipped three times the dye will not be fast.
The second method is to crush the bark of the azeu tree in a mortar. The crushed bark is then boiled and the liquid is stained off. The thread to be dyed is steeped in the liquid, and as soon as it is thoroughly wet is taken out and buried in mud, where it is left for three days, after which it is taken out and washed. This process has to be gone through twice to make the colour fast.
The third process is carried out in the same way as the second, except that the leaves of the awhmangbeupa tree are used instead of the azeu tree. To dye thread yellow the people crush the roots of the turmeric plant and boil them with the thread to be dyed. Two boiling are necessary. The Mizo people also use red dye.
The men’s dress could not well be simpler, consisting as it does of a single cloth about 7 feet long and 5 wide. It is worn as follows: – one corner is grasped in the left hand and the cloth is passed over the left shoulder, behind the back, under the right arm across the chest and the end thrown over the left shoulder. Although it would appear probable, that clothing so loosely done would be continually falling off yet as a matter of fact, accidents of that sort seldom occur. In cold weather, one or more cloths are worn one over the other and also a white coat, reaching well down the thigh but only fastened at the throat. These coats are ornamented on the sleeves with bands of red and white of various patterns. When at work in hot weather the people wraps his cloth round the waist, letting the ends hang down in front, and should he find the sun warm and if he is wearing two cloths he will use one as a puggri.
Puggris are sometimes worn when out in the sun for long and some affect rather a quaint style, twisting the cloth round the head so as to make an end stand up straight over each ear. All these garments are of cotton, grown locally and manufactured by the women of the household. The cloths in general use are white, but every man likes to have two or three blue cloths ornamented with stripes of various patterns.
The dress of the chief is the same as that of the common people, except on occasions of ceremony, when they wear dark blue cloths, with red lines of a particular pattern and plumes made of the tail feathers of the king crow, in their hair knots. These plumes are very much priced and are kept most carefully in bamboo tubes and leather caps. The cloth referred to above can also be worn by anyone who has given certain feasts.
The women’s dress
The women are no more addicted to fine clothes than their men folk. All women wear the same costume; a dark blue cotton cloth, just long enough to go round the wearer’s waist with a slight over-lap, and held up by a girdle of brass wire or string, serves as a petticoat which only reaches to the knee, and only other garments being a short white jacket and a cloth which is worn in the same manner as the man. On gala days, the only addiction to the costume is a picturesque headdress worn by girls while dancing. This consists of a chaplet made of brass and coloured cane, into which are inserted porcupine quills, and to the upper ends of these are fixed the green wing-feathers of the common parrot, tipped with tufts which hang strings of glistering wing covers of green beetles. The women smoke as much as the men and have a special pipe, a miniature hookah about 9 inches high.
A single cloth is wrapped tightly around the waist, a haversack protected by a bear or tiger skin guard over one shoulder, and a fighting dao or dah over the other, and a gun in his hand completed each warrior’s equipment. a man who had earned a title of “Thanhchhuah” is allowed to wear a cloth of a certain pattern and those who have killed men in war have special head-dresses, known as “chhawndawl” and “arke-ziak”.
The Hmars weave many designs and some of the important ones are:
Thangsuo Puon: in Hmars language, Thangsuo Puon means famous cloth. It is a handloom cloth for the persons who earned the right to wear this by killing the maximum number of enemies in a war. Their wives are also allowed to use this cloth.
Puon Laisen: puon Laisen is a red striped cloth. In Hmar language, it means cloth with middle in red colour, but the center has two black stripes. The cloth has several designs like Sakat Zang Zie, Disul, etc.
Hmarm: the females use the lion cloth, but gradually it is going out of use. It has only three designs, Varoul (means flocks of birds). This symbol represents the eye of the bird. Ngaruzie means bones of fish. The last one is Kokpuizik Zie looks like a plant intertwined.
Zakuolaisen: this is a blouse piece used mainly by the unmarried girls. Among the Hmars Zakuo means blouse, Lai means middle and Sen means red. Thus, it means a piece having a red stripe through the middle of the cloth.
Paiteis do not weave many indigenous designs in their cloth but whatever little designs are woven seems to be indigenous and seems they attach distinctive value to those.
Thangou Puon: the most important cloth among the Paiteis is Thangou Puon. There are some restrictions imposed on the use of this cloth. Unless a Paitei kills his enemies either in inter-tribal feud or in general war, he is not entitled to wear a cloth with this design. The other alternative is to harvest the largest quantity of crop in the village and the Paitei who actually performs this is allowed to wear the Thangou Puon.
Puon Dum: it is a National cloth of Paiteis and is used at the time of condolence, official meetings, observance of National Day, etc. Puon Dum actually means a black cloth,
but the cloth has only stripes of black along the white, yellow, red and green stripes.
Jawl Puon: Jawl in Paitei language means friend and betrothed lover. The cloth is also named Shashengsin Puon meaning a cover cloth for a basket with meat carried by a married girl going first time to her husband’s house. The girl either present this cloth to her husband or husbands married sister. The Jawl Puon has nine red stripes and eight black stripes alternately arranged running vertically throughout the length of the body. There are two rows of Shial Ltun design seperated from each other and the end borders have motifs resembling the eyes of birds in yellow, pink, red and green colour.
Puon Pie: it is a type of quilt woven cloth; it is compulsory for every girl to bring one such cloth to her husband’s house after her marriage.
The Riang also have the same dresses as the people of the other communities of Mizoram. Apart from the other dresses, the riang during the marriage ceremony give the following clothes as the bride price during the marriages
1. Khutai: a kind of upper garment
2. Arnai: a kind of lower garment
3. Marki: fifteen feet of white cloth.
Arnai Lower garment
Dawlrem Kawr woman’s attire
Jainsem women’s garment
Kawppui zikzial embroidered hand woven cloth
Phanya women’s upper garment
Puanbu weaving material
Puandum a kind of cloth
Pusnbu weaving material
Puanhlap cotton cloth for men
Risa piece of cloth for covering the breast.