Neikehie sustains a traditional art form with bamboo mat weaving

Neikehie weaves a bamboo mat by criss-crossing bamboo slivers (inset) at his home in Phesama village under Kohima district. (Morung Photo)

Neikehie weaves a bamboo mat by criss-crossing bamboo slivers (inset) at his home in Phesama village under Kohima district. (Morung Photo)

The 62- year -old craftsman from Phesama among few practicing a vanishing art form 


Morung Express news 
Kohima | November 19

Neikehie engages himself in weaving a large functional mat out of bamboo slivers which is traditionally used for drying paddy. 

Unlike contemporary arts and crafts, the 62-year-old hailing from Phesama village under Kohima district, is one among few craftsmen in the village that ingeniously rely on time and season to prepare and process the raw material. 

“It is a long process. First we collect the particular bamboo, then we season it and last comes the weaving,” he explains as he lists out the components of getting the piece complete. 

Religiously adhering by the traditional method he learnt and honed over the years, Neikehie begins the process by separating different types of bamboo by how it is used for different purposes.

In his knowledge, large, coarse bamboo, as he call 'ratho' are mostly used for construction, fences etc. They are bigger in size. The other type of bamboo he uses for weaving are more tender, flexible, shorter and thinner than the ‘ratho.’ 

Bamboo plays a predominant role in the life of Naga people in every walk of life ranging from agriculture tools to shelter, food and livelihood. 

Bamboos are available in abundant as well as largely grown in the state and according to Nagaland State Biodiversity Board, there are about 71 bamboo species and 12 cane species in Nagaland.  

Neikehie says he collects the bamboo around January and February when the season is dry. 

To enable the bamboo to season well, he begins with splitting the young bamboo into thin strips or slivers, scraping them with a machete or dao. 

“We keep it for drying for months, till the rainy season,” the craftsman adds. The bamboo strips may be less or about a metre long, which is sun-dried or kept above the fire. 

When monsoon season arrive, he takes out the bamboo slivers which are now thin and dry, however, the process is not done yet. “The slivers are stripped again with the dao till a smooth texture is achieved and soaked overnight in water, so they don't break or split while weaving,” Neikehie says adding that refining the raw material can sustain the product's durability for decades. 

He points at large rice barns or baskets at his home and says these baskets were woven when his father was still alive. “It's very old, but the older ones are better with a little repair.”

The slivers now become the primary material for weaving any kind of handicraft items and essentials for daily use. 
As Neikehie continues his crafting hands on the delicate piece, he says two pieces of slivers are knitted in a criss-cross pattern and one from the centre is pulled along for the base. That way, the mat can be sturdy. 

While he pulls the slivers, he also sprinkles water to make the task easier. The mat is about 6 ft wide and 8 ft long, enough to dry a good quantity of paddy. The mat is flexible to be spread, rolled and carried for multipurpose. 

Time-consuming, intensive and completely natural process, this interesting art form and its techniques have become increasingly unfamiliar to the younger generation.