Feminism in India: The Naga Women Leading the Charge to Prosperity

Nagaland is the spirited 'wild west' of India, nestled in the Northeastern region between the foothills of the Himalayas, the tropical and subtropical wetlands of India and the historically contentious border of Myanmar (Burma). The inhospitable landscape makes long-ranging travel across the state near impossible, and as a result the indigenous culture is characterised by deep diversity across relatively small geographical distances. It is not uncommon for different dialects of the Sino-Tibetan languages to be spoken from village to village. 

 

The fragmented culture of this borderland community stimulated the need for self-reliance in many of the basics in life. This has led to a proliferation of cottage industries including food (semi-nomadic swidden or 'jhum' agriculture is the primary industry in Nagaland), textiles and basket weaving, wood carving, pottery and metalwork. The result is a community of skilled craftsmen who have handed their knowledge down through the generations, all while using at-home equipment and small scale, hand-crafted production methods. It is commonplace in Nagaland for women to weave their own clothes. 

A turbulent socio-political environment belies a deeply spiritual, culturally nationalistic people who take pride in extravagant displays of status, esoteric ritual and celebrations of their diversity. A full festival calendar that has earned them a reputation as perhaps the most festive culture in India. Ostentatious traditions developed over hundreds of years and the wide spread adoption of skills creates a prime breeding ground for refined artistic innovation, competitive at an international level for intricacies of adornment and functionality of design. 

In 1993 Jesmina Zeliang, a Nagaland native from Dimapur, reimagined her weaving into products more attuned to suit contemporary styling from beyond the borders of her hometown. The results quickly finding favour with Indian and western buyers alike with interior designers looking for authentic artisanal products that bring intrigue and drama into unique interiors. Growing to over 450 weavers today spread out across a breadth of traditionally warring tribes from all over Nagaland, Heirloom Naga has turned this cottage industry of necessity into a major driver for economic prosperity in the impoverished region. 

Buyers from all over the world travel to Nagaland to purchase throws, cushions and wares from the Naga people, and travel in the region is becoming more common. With economic stability brought about by internally-led international trade, the historically tumultuous region has built a foundation for enhanced equality by empowering women in society - the vast majority of weavers are women and Nagaland has some of the highest education and comparative literacy rates for women in the whole of India, with 76.11% of literate women compared with 82.75% for men. Economic prosperity is setting up a foundation for political stability in the area through integration, with Jesmina's efforts to bring prosperity to marginal communities an on-going basis of the Heirloom Naga story. Help Jesmina and her plight today by purchasing from our Heirloom Naga collection, and aiding in the proliferation of authentic culturally significant goods playing a leading part in the world stage of economic prosperity, ethical, social and environmental sustainability for all. 

 

References:

The London School of Economics and Political Science, 2019

Civil Unrest

https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/southasia/2019/10/01/swidden-farming-in-eastern-india-what-can-an-ethnographic-study-reveal-about-citizens-interactions-with-the-colonial-and-post-independent-indian-state/

 

The Guardian, 2008

Historical Spiritual Practices

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/aug/22/india-endangered-habitats

  

Government of India, 2022

Nagaland Textiles

https://indianculture.gov.in/node/2790367

 

Indulge - The New India Express, 2022

Jesmina Zeliang on Naga Cottage Industries

https://www.indulgexpress.com/fashion/profile/2022/may/29/designer-entrepreneur-jesmenia-zeliang-shares-her-journey-with-her-brand-heirloom-naga-41119.html

 

Brittanica, 2020

Geo-political Facts

https://www.britannica.com/place/Nagaland/additional-info#history

 

Maps of India, 2022

Aristic Culture

https://www.mapsofindia.com/nagaland/society-and-culture/arts-crafts.html

 

Heirloom Naga, 2022 

Heirloom Naga's Story 

https://heirloomnaga.com/about/

 

Architectural Digest, 2020

Jesmina Zeliang's Story

https://www.architecturaldigest.in/magazine-story/how-heirloom-naga-is-putting-naga-textiles-on-the-world-map-art-craft-nagaland/

 

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