Nagaland’s corridor of knowledge
‘Patir Jupang’, a group of elders, is passing on the knowledge of their rich culture and crafts to youngsters in Aliba village
In a shed called Tongpangchanger Kilem, constructed by the clans of Pongen, Jamir and Longkum, baskets in various stages of completion are stacked neatly. Children from classes V-X, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing norms, are trying to split bamboo sticks and thread them together. A couple of elderly men are guiding them through the process.
This is part of an unusual “Skill Development and Training Programme" in Aliba village in Nagaland’s Mokokchung district. It was initiated on 9 June by the Aliba Students’ Union in an attempt to introduce children to traditional skills, some of which are dying out. “We are working around the unprecedented situation introduced by covid-19 to help young minds discover new skills, believing that it is a novel way to keep children from being addicted to gadgets," says Alemjungshi, president, Aliba Students’ Union.
The teachers, all above 60, are members of the Patir Jupang—literally, “old men’s corridor or platform". The group comprises retired teachers, retired council members and farmers who are well versed in age-old crafts. “On 30 December 2016, a senior citizen named Imkongchiba Pongen—a retired DGM (production) with ONGC— founded Patir Jupang with the aim of creating space for the younger generation to learn our rich culture, tradition, folk songs and tales, and crafts. The aim was to bring about togetherness and a feeling of love," says Jangtsulong Pongen, a youth pastor. Since then, the group has been meeting every Tuesday to practise crafts and chat about everyday affairs.
Last year, in its annual general body meeting, the students’ union had passed a resolution that the youngsters in Aliba would learn from the Patir Jupang in school. “However, now, due to covid-19, schools are closed. So the students’ body in the village thought of doing this in an open enclosure, while maintaining social distancing norms," says Pongen. Arenkala Kichu, 34 and a PhD candidate, acts as a translator, speaking to the young and the old about what the initiative means to them..
In one corner of the enclosure, 10-year-old Temjennukshi is hard at work. “At first I didn’t know much about the local crafts. After I joined this training, I learnt to split bamboo, make strips and splice for weaving egg stock baskets. This has also taught me about coexisting in a society, especially at a time like this," he says.
The egg stock basket is especially significant for the village. According to folklore, “this was first taught to men by Lijaba, who was considered God, the maker of Earth, and hence worshipped by our ancestors", says 66-year-old Bendangnichet Jamir, a member of the Patir Jupang. The story goes that one day Lijaba went to a forest and reached a banana calathea grove. There, he taught men the art of weaving this basket, using just his fingers, no bamboo strips. “Since then, the people in the village have been weaving and using it to stock eggs, pigs and roosters. In Nagaland, we have a very strong oral tradition, and all these tales have been transmitted through the generations," says Jamir, who is both happy and surprised at the alacrity with which the children have picked up skills.
Besides the egg stock basket, the children are learning to make fish stock and rice stock baskets and fish trap baskets too. “Our ancestors used to be head hunters and they would use bamboo shields especially created for the task. The village elders are teaching us how to make this as well," says Pongen. Jamir is also teaching them how to make a shield that was once used to ward off animals and enemies.
“I learnt at least one skill each from my seniors like Tsupokyimba, Longichaba, Lupendangba and Jeptakyangba—most of them are not with us any more. The main aim of teaching these crafts to the younger generation is to transfer my skills, even though I don’t enjoy sound health any more. But I am determined to do this as long as my health permits," says Jabir.
FIRST PUBLISHED10.07.2020 | 08:00 AM IST