Making of: Lotha Weaving in Nagaland, India
Words by Emily Lush, Photos by Nagaland Online and Philadelphia Museum of Art, Video by Wild Films India
Nestled in northeast India close to the borders of Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China, Nagaland is a mountainous state home to 16 distinct hill tribes. Loom-woven body cloths play an important role in identity building and distinguishing the members of different clans and villages.
The Lotha Naga in Longsa village, Wokha District weave lotha – vividly coloured, geometrically patterned shawls that when worn, denote a man or woman’s social status in the community. The weaving of shawls, scarves and sarongs is done exclusively by women on loin or body tension looms, which are commonly used throughout northeast India. The Naga loom consists of a simple back-strap with a continuous horizontal warp. Basic tools such as warp beams, lease rods, healed sticks and beating swords are fashioned from debris, making the loom inexpensive and highly portable.
Cotton, wool and increasingly, rayon are all used for weaving the long, narrow shawls. Stripes, squares and bands of black, red and white colour are typically used; some designs are woven over with patterns depicting animals or human figures, symbolised by a circular shape. The finished lotha is warp-dominant and has a ribbed texture.