Re Chokodo- revival of the lost fabric
Amkhalam is a small hamlet nestled in the hills of the scintillating Karbi Anglong district of Assam. Situated in the Umswai area which falls under the Baithalangso police station, Amkhalam is about 32 odd km from the NH-37 that connects Guwahati and Nagaon. My journey to Amkhalam started from the annual traditional Joonbeel Mela of Tiwa tribes near Jagiroad. It was the month of January and the sun had just started its descent towards home. I struck-off a wonderful deal with some of the Tiwa men and boarded a mini truck at the back. The communication that connects this part of Karbi Anglong to Guwahati is very poor. My mission was to meet a septuagenarian lady whose works on a recreation of an already extinct garment of Tiwa have earned her the distinction of National Award in Handloom in 2013. Her name is Lashti Mithi.
After grueling 3 hours of spiraling around the hills, I reached Amkhalam village. It was already dark. One of the four children' of Lashti Mithi was accompanying me. His name is Umesh. As I entered the compound bounded by beautiful bamboo poles and guided by the light of full moon, 'Baidew' gracefully welcomed me with warm hands. 'Baidew' in Assamese means Elder Sister. This is the name that Lashti Mithi became synonymous with the region. As the night progressed sans electricity whose absence haunts the growth of the village, Baidew made me feel like home with her warm hospitality. She lit a fire in the woods and as warmness engulfed us in the room, discussion gradually turned into stories.
Lashti Mithi is a weaver of Tiwa garments. Her journey into weaving started young under the expert guidance of her grandmother, mother, and her elder sister, Rufati Mithi. She was 25 when she got married to Late Biren Bordoloi. It is noteworthy to mention that Tiwa is a matriarchy community. So, the newly wed couple stayed at the bride's home. Baidew's parents were from Tharakunji village in Karbi Anglong. That is where she was born. Her Elder sister, Rufati Mithi continues to stay over there. Baidew and her husband choose to start a new life of their own and shifted to their present location in Amkhalam. ''It was 1998 when he died and I was left with the job of growing up my four children'', Baidew said. Weaving is a part of her life but it doesn't guarantee a natural flow of income. So she started doing farming. Jhum cultivation is practiced by many tribes in the hilly regions of Karbi Anglong. Time passes by, now Baidew was joined by her children in doing daily chores. With weaving on their genes already, her two girls started learning to weave and soon was able to help Baidew.
It was morning the day after and the sun was at its best. I saw Baidew working on her handloom humming this very beautiful lines:
Ne Ma Mayali Khora Limati
Sotonga Khamtine Nangil Tale Osong
Khelalangai Muikhurin Ne Nangil Tale Osong
Laha Khojane Nangil Hal Gaido
Laha Pari Huna Lina Naw....
This song roughly translates the life of a weaver who is saying ''I will make you a Takla (Tiwa garment) and help you design it. If you want the red color, you have to accompany me to the field and clean it''.
Tiwa has mainly four garments for the men namely- Tagla (Jacket), Thana (wrapped around legs, below abdomen) and Muffler(wrapped around the head)
For women, there are another three namely- Kasong, Phaskai and Nara.
But apart from all these, Baidew is credited with recreating an extinct garment of Tiwa community which was completely lost with time. It was Re-Chokodo. Saying about the garment, one of Assam's best-known photographer of ethnographic research, Mr. Samir Choudhury '' As I traveled and followed the Tiwa community from such a long time, I was avidly surprised to see how people have lost touch of their ancestry, their rich culture, and tradition. I met Baidew during Joonbeel Mela and that's where I asked her about this special cloth and where can I click it. She nodded with a no. It's extinct''. Re-Chokodo is a very special cloth worn by the Tiwa men as a wrapper during the festival of Yangli. It's made of Eri thread and consist of heavy design or 'Chaneki' in Tiwa language. Baidew was then entrusted by Samir Choudhury to recreate this marvelous piece of garment. It took her almost 6 months to carefully remember the design and another 3 months to prepare the Re-Chokodo. ''It was hard for me as I couldn't find a single piece of Re-chokodo to prepare a pattern. I saw it when I was young. It was all in the memory. I had to dig right into it'', said Baidew. Her perseverance and Samir's belief have finally paid off. Lashti Mithi was awarded National Merit Certificate in 2011 and finally the National Award in Handloom in 2013 after she sent a piece of Re-Chokodo to Ministry of Textiles. The Hon'ble Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi himself awarded Lashti Mithi at a glittering ceremony on 7th August 2015 in Chennai. A piece of Re-chokodo will cost you INR13,000.
As I was sipping hot tea and clicking pictures, Baidew was showing me the extraction of different colors from different sources for the design and surprisingly, everything is organic. The black color is derived from the leaves of Nelli. Dark Orange is derived from the root of Hajo tree. Dark green is derived from the leaves of Urung plant. Olive green is from the 'Khilika'(Myrobalan) and yellow is derived from the Turmeric. For example, the coloring of the yellow thread is done by first grinding the Turmeric into a fine powder and then mixed with the threads poured with hot water. The thread is then let to dry off. In the second process, the bark of the local tree named Thembor is used. It will be grinded and mixed with the threads already lapped with turmeric and then hot water is poured. The process is continued for 4-5 times. Trust me, the color will never wear off.
Cotton farming has literally died down in the hills as it requires huge farming place and time. Extracting Eri from the Samia Cynthia moth and turning into fine threads also requires a huge amount of time before they are colored but its quality is second to none. In the time of globalization, gradually the emergence of 'Thai' threads have engulfed the weaver's market. These threads are already colored and weavers can directly put it into loom thereby cutting down cost and time. Weavers like Lashti Mithi don't want to use it for its inferior quality in comparison to Cotton or Eri but have no other options.
As I was winding up my story and journey, Baidew handing over me a bag full of Myrobalan fruit and said ''I don't know if you will return again but I have plans to set up a handloom centre where girls can learn to weave. You will find it interesting. I don't want it to die. It's painful to see people neglecting their own culture. Help me to save it''. Her words were deep and sentimental. Her views echoed the pitiable conditions of the weavers devoid of support from our own Government and neglected by our own people.
Prabir Kumar Talukdar
( Prabir Kumar Talukdar is a freelance journalist. He travels around the country to capture stories. He is a recipient of 2015 Trust Women Photo Award by Thomson Reuters Foundation and Microsoft. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His mobile no is 73995-02650 )