The Seven Sisters in Northeast India include Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. Home to over 160 tribal groups, each different from the other, the culture of this region is richly reflected in its indigenous arts, crafts and handiwork.
A woman from the Monpa tribe of Arunachal Pradesh displays a traditional hat woven from yak hair; Daniel J. Rao/shutterstock.com
Once known for the manufacture of guns, Arunachal Pradesh now produces a wide variety of hand-made goods. Handicrafts shopping in Arunachal Pradesh consists of carpets, wood carving, dolls, cane and bamboo and hand woven goods. It is also a haven for accessories lovers.
Located in isolated splendour, the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh are divided into 3 major groups depending on their culture and handicrafts; the Buddhist tribes consist of the Sherdukpens and Monpas and also to some extent the Khowa. The Aka and Mijis comprise another group, while the Membas, Khambas, Khamtis and Singphos comprise the last group. Each tribe has a unique culture and their handicrafts are great as souvenirs for those visiting Northeast India.
Weaving is a common activity carried on by women in all the tribes. Arunachal Pradesh’ weaves are famous for their beautiful colour combinations. Exceptional are the Sherdukpen shawls, Apatani jackets and scarves, Adi skirts, jackets and bags, Mishmi shawls, blouses and jackets and Wancho bags and loin cloths. Don’t forget to include these in your shopping list.
#2 Carpet Making
When you see a bright colourful carpet with floral, geometric or dragon designs, chances are that the carpet is from Arunachal Pradesh. Carpets are a speciality of the Manpas. In recent years, these carpets have begun to be exported and are a major livelihood activity of the women.
#3 Wood Carving
Wood carving is associated with the culture and tradition of the various tribes in Arunachal Pradesh. Wood carving is a significant hobby of the Wanchos of Tirap. Their skilfully crafted and designed wooden articles have a special place in Arunachal handicrafts.
#4 Ornament Making
The Akas are famous for their bamboo ornaments while the Mishmis are famous for their use of silver in ornaments. The Wanchos make earrings from glass beads.
Doll making, bamboo and cane articles are also made here.
Also known as the land of the blue mountains, the finesse and intricate, traditional designs of Mizoram are beautiful. The Mizos have held on to certain patterns that have been passed down through the ages. These designs have become deeply rooted in their tribal consciousness and are an integral part of the heritage of the Mizos.
Weaving forms a major part of Mizo culture. Young girls are taught to weave early in childhood. The shawls and handbags produced by the various tribes are very attractive, though steeply priced. If you want to take home a memory of Mizoram, the delicate and exquisite puon, traditional Mizo dresses for women that are woven on a traditional loom, should be added to your shopping list. The Hmars have several designs of which the thangsuo puon, meaning famous cloth, puon laisen meaning cloth with middle in red colour, hmarm, the loin cloth worn by women and zakuolaisen, the blouse piece used by unmarried girls are high on the list.
#2 Cane & bamboo work
Mizos take great pride in their can and bamboo work. Expert basket makers, they etch and notch designs into soft cane fibers and use the baskets for numerous purposes.
Over 16 tribes live in the state of Nagaland. Most are adept at wood, metal and bamboo handicrafts.
Naga women, wearing woven cloth, handmade beads and metal ornaments
Some of the finest woodcarvers in India come from the Wancho, Konyak and Phom tribes in Nagaland. The icons that best define the Naga’s skill in woodwork are carved mithun heads, hornbills, human figures, elephants, tigers and the log-drums or xylophones that are laboriously hollowed out of the trunk big trees. Woodcarving is also associated with their religious beliefs.
#2 Black smithy (metal craft)
Naga jewellery for the arm, wrist and neck
One of the recent additions to Naga arts and crafts, black smithy or metal craft is popularly found among the local tribes because of their affinity towards weapons such as spears and daos. The Rengma tribe is considered to be the best Naga black smith and you can get beautifully decorated spears as take-aways. Just make sure customs knows what you’re up to.
#3 Bamboo, cane & bead craft
With an abundance of bamboo and cane plantations in Nagaland, the bamboo and cane craft is an ancient tradition. The women of Nagaland also make gorgeous, colourful, ornaments decorated with beads, shells and feathers.