Bamboo and cane Culture of Nagaland:

Naga Caskets

Ao house, Nagaland

Nagaland is an important part of the colourful culture of India. The forests of Nagaland are rich in bamboo and cane. Thus, naturally they are expert basket makers. Basketry among the Nagas is highly developed. However, the craft is restricted to men. All Naga men know how to weave mats of split bamboo, which is the chief material besides wood for constructing walls and floors of houses. Very important is the production of finely woven mats for drying paddy.

Split bamboo is the usual material used for both mats and baskets. There are various stages involved in the preparation of baskets and other cane goods. It begins in the collection of raw materials from the forest, making splints of necessary sizes, weaving of the basket and finally giving the finishing touches. They now prepare different kinds of armchairs, sofas, tables and cradles for babies. Apart from baskets, the Nagas make mats, shields and different kinds of hats from bamboo. They make attractive chungas or drinking cups; mugs made of bamboo with poker work. They are sometimes designed with painted stylized floral patterns or with human figures done in relief, greatly enhancing the shape and the texture of the articles. In Nagaland, the bamboo pipe is popular. In general, it has been rightly said that Nagas start life “ in a cradle of bamboo and ends in a coffin of bamboo”. “ With a grove of bamboo I am always a rich man”- once remarked aptly by an old man of Khari village. He said, “ I construct my house with bamboo, use bamboo utensils and equipments in the bamboo house, burn dried bamboo as fuel, use bamboo torches and eat bamboo pickles”. This statement illustrated how deep is his attachment to this plant. The most important species of bamboo found in Nagaland are Dendroclamus Homiltonii, from which the best type of splints for basket work are extracted, Bambusa bamboo, best suited for house construction, Melocana Bamboo Soides, suitable for making floor and walls of a Naga house and Bambusa tulda and Teinostachyum.


Different kind of hats made of fine bamboo splits, Nagaland

Cane Basket ornamented with carved wooden figure and heads, Nagaland

Cane being profuse is largely utilized for works in craft. For coarse baskets, cane is employed. Picturesque cane crafts comprising bowls, mugs and containers with multi-coloured engravings on them are made by all tribes. Other varieties such as fillets as part of ornamentation have elaborately worked out design. Cane helmets and hat frames are many. Among the Nagas, a cane-rain proof hat is also made. Men of some tribes weave very attractive neck-bands, armlets and leggings from fine strips of cane dyed red and stems of the yellow orchid in combination with cowries. Mats woven of cane strings with fine texture have decorative value. Cane furniture is also quite popular. Necklace and armlets are also made from cane. Cane ornaments such as head bands, bangles, leg-guards, etc. constitute other models of workmanship. A typical haversack in a cane frame, sewn over it by a thick cloth and with decorations of shells and beads is also seen.

Bamboo Basket

Konyak Basket, Nagaland

The story of the first use of baskets is lost in the remote past. The Ao folk tale about the origin and development of this craft runs as: Once, there lived a magician, who was known by the name Changkichanglangba. In his life time he used to perform miracles. When he was alive, he used to tell the people that if they open his grave on the sixth day after his death, they would discover there something new. On the sixth day, after his death, when the grave was opened out, all the designs and patterns of basketry work were found here. The people copied it and started practicing it.

Baskets of very fine designs are in wide range with different shapes and sizes, used for different purposes, such as containers for crops and other house-hold goods and packages for carrying luggages and merchandise. Baskets range from rough little receptacle made in a few minutes into which an alive chicken is rammed for a journey, to the carefully woven baskets in which rice is carried from the fields. Japa, a package with lid, hexagonal in form is popularly used all over the state for travelling. There are other kinds of baskets bearing symbolic expression and having numerous engravings.

Baskets and Containers from Mon District, Nagaland

Tobacco Container, Bamboo, Nagaland

Baskets are usually of two kinds, one to be kept in the house for storage purposes and the other to be carried on the back for day-to-day use. The Angamis are rather experts in producing several varieties of bamboo and cane works. Baskets are of all shapes and sizes from the rough little simple designs prepared in a few minute into a complicated pattern, carefully woven baskets for carrying rice, or keeping wine in bottles. There are not professional basket makers. Every man produces baskets for his own domestic use. A man will make rough open-work basket for temporary use in an incredibly short time, and throw it away when done with. Baskets meant for permanent use all over Nagaland are usually woven in a checker-twilled pattern or open-work pattern in various sizes, resembling the cane seat of a chair. The Ao basket is conical in shape, while the Angami basket is cylindrical with the mouth slightly wider than the base. Conical carrying baskets, akhi and akha are common, and every household possesses several flat-bottomed big baskets in twill pattern into which rice beer is strained. These baskets are so closely woven as to be practically water-tight. Chakhesang and Angami Naga carrying baskets are especially well known. The baskets used by Chang women to carry balls of thread while knitting is also beautiful. Konyak baskets are decorated with figures and hair.

Technique of Basket Weaving

Normally, during the months of July to October when the Nagas are a little free from the normal economic pursuits, they get bamboo from the forests. Bamboo of about a year old is generally selected for the purpose, but bamboos beyond three years old being brittle are not at all used. The selected one is cut with the help of a dao at a place where the internodes are longer. The bamboo is now cleared off the branches and leaves, if any, and then cut to the required lengths. Each piece is now splitted into bigger splints of about one inch in breadth. The bamboo is cut in such a way that the lower portion has no node and this portion is then splitted with the dao and finally broken off with the help of the hand. While breaking it off, bristles are formed at the base.

Angami Bamboo Basket, Nagaland

Yarn Basket, Chang Tribe

While splitting, the purpose for which the splints are put into is also taken into account. As for instance, in the case of mats, the splints are made out of one internode only, for baskets two internodes, while for larger baskets even three to four internodes are splitted together according to the size of the basket to be prepared.

The next stage is of cutting the bigger splints into conveniently smaller ones with the help of a dao. Each of these pieces is kept resting in between one arm and the body and then splitted from the bristle. The thickness of the splint is regulated by the manipulation of the hand. Finally, from one piece three or four thin splints are produced.

These final splints are about 2 mm thick and 1 cm wide. These splints are to be smoothened before being woven into a basket. Smoothening is done with the help of a knife or a dao. The splint is held in the left hand and the knife in the right. The cutting edge of the blade of the knife is kept pressed against the splint while the fore-finger is kept just beneath the splint below the knife. Now the splint is drawn outward with the help of the left hand, while the knife is kept pressed on to the splint and pushed inward with the right thumb. This is repeated several times on both sides and at both ends. Now the splints are ready for weaving. If the articles are to be coloured, the colouring is done at this stage.

Lotha Basket from Nagaland (Gradual transition from a wide circular mouth to a pointed base reinforced with a bamboo ring)

The next stage is weaving of the article. Several splints are arranged on the floor in a series, and these for convenience sake may be called the warp by analogy with weaving. The wefts are then plaited to the warp differently in different techniques. In the case of check, the warp and weft passes over and under each other alternately as in a woven cloth. In twill, each weft passes over and then under two or more warps producing by varying width and colour contrast an endless variety of effects. Another variety is the hexagonal, in which the weft instead of being horizontal and vertical, are worked in three directions forming open work hexagonal spaces, in close work six pointed stars. These are the three common patterns of basket weaving found among the Nagas. In respect to making the winnowing fans, the weft goes over one warp and then goes below the adjoining warp and again above the next one and then below four warps. The same is repeated.

Naga carrying basket, made from bamboo splints

After having woven the base, the free ends of the weft and the warp are turned perpendicular in order to prepare the walls of the basket. This mainly depends on the required size of the article. After turning the free ends, the wefts and the warps are inter-plaited exactly in the same pattern as in the case of the base. Now when the required height is reached, the wefts and the warps are turned downward so that a folding effect is produced. The ends are then tucked in the body and the remaining ends are cut out with a knife. In some case, as for example, in conical carrying baskets, additional splints are added at regular intervals to widen the upper portion. Tying on to it an additional split cane may strengthen the rim of the carrying basket. Further strengthening of the body is done by tying supporting sticks of bamboo pieces lengthwise on the side if the body at regular intervals.

Bamboo Works

Bamboo shield painted with traditional designs

Domestic Products

Bamboo Dish

A cheaper, lighter dish made of bamboo is seen in every house. A section of bamboo free of nodes is cut and shaved down until it is very thin. Then it is split down on one side and warmed over the fire, until it opens out flat. Two slits are then cut at each end and the ends are folded up like the ends of a paper parcel and laced in place with cane.

Bamboo Saucers

Bamboo saucers are used as appetizer dishes to hold the salted beans or hot chutney, which are eaten when drinking rice-beer.

Angami Naga Bamboo Spoons

The Angami Nagas, like several other hill tribes, use spoons of varying sizes shaped from bamboo. A bamboo culm of diameter 35 mm is shaped so that one nodal diaphragm is retained. A thick split extending from that node is shaped to form the handle and this split is bent slightly away from the axis of the culm for convenient handling. The lower part of the node and diaphragm are shaped by scraping with a dao, to create a soft rounded form.


The Kedzu is a hayfork used by the Ao Nagas for shifting grass and hay. It is made of bamboo and has a very interesting form and structure. The handle is a length of whole culm bamboo and the fingers too are made from a bamboo culm.

Chang Bamboo Mugs

Among the Changs, who have an aesthetic sense more highly developed than their neighbours, the bamboo drinking mugs decorated with poker work designs called dobu thung- dobu means decorated, thung means mug- were originally made exclusively for the use of head takers. To burn the motifs on the body of the mug and the decorative pattern on the edge takes the maker at least three hours with short intervals while working.

Since head-hunting had stopped, these decorative bamboo mugs are used only by rich men who can buy them, or anybody willing to exchange one for a basket of paddy weighing about 15 kg, or for labour. A maker of this kind of drinking mug may demand the tilling of a full field of paddy in exchange of one mug.


Chang Naga Cross-Bow

The Chang Naga cross-bow is a powerful weapon made of bamboo, wood, fibre and bone. It is made of a thick and strong bamboo beam, wider at the centre than the ends, held in a slot in the wooden cross-beam. The wooden cross-beam has a groove at the top on which the arrow rests. Towards the back of the cross-beam, a trigger assembly made of bone is used to hold the bow in tension as the bow-string made of fibre rope is held by the back of the trigger.

The bow is held at arm length with both hands on the cross-beam holding it from below. When the trigger is pulled, the hook is depressed permitting the bow-string to propel the arrow with great force. A good deal of strength is required to charge the bow as the bamboo beam is fairly thick and not easily bent.

Tribal Costume Accessories

Bamboo Combs

Small decorative combs of bamboo splits are made by Chang men as a gift to be given to girls.

Konyak Naga Belt

The Konyak Naga men wear a tight cane belt around their waists. These are made of half splits of cane wound around the waist in about seven or eight loops. The belt is worm by adults, and once it is put on, it is not removed until the man dies. The cane, due to constant contact with the body and body oils, becomes beautiful golden yellow in colour.


The Phipha is one of a pair of leggings worn by Angami and Ao Naga men of Nagaland. It like a sleeve, open at both ends, with the top wider than the bottom and is worn over the calf to cover most of the leg between the knee and ankle. It is woven in a diagonal twill weave with very fine splits of cane. The lower portion, which has a slit along the side, is woven in natural coloured cane while the top portion-almost three-fifths of the length-is woven with splits of cane dyed a deep red colour. Bright yellow strips of orchid stem are used sparingly to make decorative patterns on the Phipha. Tufts of coloured wool are also used as decoration.

Fish Traps and Fish Baskets


This is a fishing tray used in Nagaland. It is made like a shallow square-based basket with the base woven in an open-twill weave, forming a net like surface.

Ceremonial Headgear

The Ao Nagas use a decorative ceremonial hat, which is cone-shaped. It is made in two layers, the inner layer provides the structure and the outer layer is mainly decorative. The outer layer is made from dyed strips of bamboo or cane, and decorated with yellow and black strips. The yellow strips may be bamboo or cane, but more often, they are the skin of an orchid stem, which turns bright yellow when dry. The red and black dyeing of bamboo and cane using natural dyes is the most significant aspect of these hats. The process of dyeing differs slightly from tribe to tribe.

Musical Instruments

By nature, the Nagas are music lovers. Use of different musical instruments has been very common among the Nagas. They have been using different musical instruments for different purposes which are very interesting and recordable.

The Bamboo Flute

Bamboo Flute

The Naga flute is one of the simplest instruments made of thin bamboo. It produces beautiful sound with different tunes. Only a special quality of bamboo ‘ani’ can be used to make such bamboo flute. This bamboo flute is very easy to make. For blowing the flute, it depends on individual expertise. Both men and women can play it alike.

Another type of musical instrument similar to this flute is called ‘Malen’ in Ao dialect, which is made out of paddy plant stump. Its making is easier than that of a bamboo flute. Its whole length is nearly four to five inches only and as big as a lead pencil. It is made during harvest time only.

Bamboo Trumpet

In the case of a bamboo trumpet, a bamboo is cut as big as an arm about 4-5 feet with two nodes, one is in the upper and the other in the centre or middle. However, the lower end is kept open. A hole in the centre node is opened with the help of a spear blade to enable the sound to pass through the hole making the musical tone under the control of the tongue. Again, in the upper end of the node, a small hole is opened and another short bamboo pipe as big as a stick or a finger size has to be fixed tightly. This smaller pipe is to be put on the lips of the blower and thereby start blowing, controlling the tongue and lips holding the bamboo trumpet with both the hands pressing towards the lips.

The Bamboo Mouth Organ

The bamboo mouth organ is one of the oldest traditional musical instruments used by the Nagas. This is a very simple instrument made of bamboo, yet very effective and enchanting. The making process of this musical instrument is not a very hard job. Its whole length is about 6 inches only and half an inch in width. Ani, a kind of thin bamboo is use to make this organ, as this quality of bamboo is found to be the best one for such instrument. This musical instrument is played mostly inside the dormitory Zuki; where young girls sleep. It can be played both by boys and girls too, without any restriction nor formal teaching is required to learn this small instrument. Players of this instrument can make four different sounds while playing. These four sounds are produced due to the movement of the fingers pulling the string, use of lips, breathing and the movement of the tongue of the player. This instrument is very simple, easy to make and play, but it takes a long time to become an expert of this organ. It is also known as the “ Midnight Musical Instrument”.

The Cup Violin

The cup violin is one of the musical instruments popularly used by the Aos. To make the cup violin, a good quality of hard and thin bamboo is selected, or sometimes a shell of bitter gourd is used.

Besides this, a bow is required to play. To make the bow, two things are important. Firstly, a thin bamboo half an inch in width and about a feet long is needed. Secondly, a bamboo fibre is thinned down with the help of a sharp dao. One end of this fibre is tied at one end of the stick and it is cleaned by charcoal. Now, the bow is ready for use.

As per the oral tradition, it is said that man learnt the method of playing this instrument from the crab. When its ten fingers move one after another, it looks like the fingers of a pianist playing the piano. Out of this movement, man learnt how to use his fingers while playing the violin. Both men and women can play this instrument without any restriction. This instrument is called Cup Violin or Mid Night Violin because it is played mainly at mid night.


Ao A tribe in Nagaland.

Angami A tribe in Nagaland.

Chunga Drinking cup

Chutney An indigenous sauce

Dao A flat-bladed knife

Konyak a tribe on Nagaland