TExT AND TExTURE OF CLOTHING IN MEETEI COMMUNITY


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International Journal of Research in Social Sciences
Vol. 8 Issue 2, February 2018, ISSN: 2249-2496 Impact Factor: 7.081 Journal Homepage: http://www.ijmra.us, Email: [email protected] Double-Blind Peer Reviewed Refereed Open Access International Journal - Included in the International Serial Directories Indexed & Listed at: Ulrich's Periodicals Directory ©, U.S.A., Open J-Gage as well as in Cabell‟s Directories of Publishing Opportunities, U.S.A
Text and Texture of Clothing in Meetei
Community: A Contextual Study

Yumnam Sapha Wangam Apanthoi M*
Abstract: This paper is an effort to understand Meetei identity through the text and texture of clothing in ritual context. Meeteis are the majority ethnic group of Manipur, who are Mongoloid in origin. According to the Meetei belief system, they consider themselves as the descendents of Lord Pakhangba, the ruling deity of Manipur. Veneration towards Pakhangba and various beliefs and practices related with the Paphal cult have significantly manifested in the cultural and social spheres of Meetei identity. As part of the material culture, dress plays an important role in manifesting the symbolic representation of their relation with Pakhangba in their mundane life. Meetei cloths are deeply embedded with the socio-cultural meaning of the Meeteiness presented in their oral and verbal expressive behaviors. When seven individual groups merged into one community under the political dominance of Mangang/Ningthouja clan, traditional costume became an important agent in order to recognise the individual identity and the common Meetei identity. There are some cloths which have intricate design with various motifs, believed to be derived from the mark of Pakhangba’s body and are used in order to identify the age, sex, social status, and ethnic identity in ritual context. The present paper, therefore, tries to understand how Meetei community identify themselves through using the concept of text, texture and context as a method of analyzing their cultural identity. It is an attempt to understand how they perceived, socialized and constructed their social identities depending upon their uses of cloths on various contexts. Keywords: Clothing, Identity, Meetei, Pakhangba, Text, Texture, Context.
* Ph.D Research Scholar, Centre for Folk Culture Studies , University of Hyderabad

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ISSN: 2249-2496 Impact Factor: 7.081

Introduction: Beyond the word-based types, the concept of „text‟ has many relationships through folklore because it doesn‟t exist in isolation. The idea of „text‟ can be developed in connection with the material culture which can be considered as a complex text that can take part in, observation and analysis. Material culture refers to the physical object which means cultural products such as clothes, pots, baskets, tools, household materials, folk arts and architectures, food etc. that has tangible and intangible quality to define a culture. A cloth1 is an item of folklore i.e. a text that has its own structure embodying with certain socio-cultural meaning to identify a group. In cloth, texture could be – rough, smooth, hard, lumpy which are the physical characteristics of cloth that affect the „text‟. The texture would be dealing with how the surface of cloth feels, what colours are used as well as the motifs which are woven. Motifs are patterns which are repeatedly woven to make an item to identify the group. Anything which is connected or related to the physical properties of the clothes that convey meaning is included in texture. The textural figures of the cloth are related to its creation and the weaver who weaved it. Techniques which are employed leads to productions of variant textures for different cloth. The textural features of the cloth are a recognisable tradition to classify the wearer or the significant motifs in various contexts. Such variations in texture of a cloth make the cloth as a „text‟ unique. Context refers to anything and everything that surround the text. The text can be understood from the particular narrow context as well as it can also be seen within a larger context, as part of a socio-cultural system. BenAmos brings two types of context, „context of situation‟2 and „context of culture‟3 which are overlapping each other. The understanding of context is beyond the identification of the text within the particular setting.4 Context is important for shaping text and texture of an item of folklore, for the significance of society and individuals. So, cloth as a text of any group has textural feature which is used in certain context and the context shape the text and the texture of the cloth also. A study of clothing of any group requires investigation of the text, the texture and the context.
Generally, clothes are used in various aspects of life be it for providing comfort to our body by protecting it from cold and hot conditions, for covering the skin, mainly the genital areas and the breast which are considered as offensive and transgressing the social norm when exposed publicly. However, the purpose of clothing exceeds beyond such simple understanding. Clothing

237

International Journal of Research in Social Sciences

http://www.ijmra.us, Email: [email protected]

ISSN: 2249-2496 Impact Factor: 7.081
is a woven fabric worn by the people which are directly in contact with the human body. There are different types of fabric and wearing patterns of cloth depending on each individual‟s body type, social, and geographical region. The identity of the wearer is shown through clothing and the influence of the region where the wearer lives is manifested in it. Each individual wear different clothes in different situations to make his/her existence recognized in their group or community. The significance of clothes not only concerns the environmental physiology but it also has socio-cultural meanings that reveal the societal norms and values with respect to their age, sex, gender, social status, sacred and profane activities which appears in various contexts. The concept of clothing as a universal and visual cultural element contains a set of symbols and designs that convey particular messages at different social and psychological level.5 Object symbols i.e. clothes are context specific and possess meanings that can be changed depending on the context.
Like some other folks, Meetei community has their subjective symbolic tradition, verbal and non-verbal expressive behaviours which have been practicing from one generation to another which differentiates their identity from other groups. Such subjective symbols are practiced as a cultural collective system through folklore. Clothes as subjective symbol are a cultural product of the people that identify them as an individual or a community. The Meetei community has certain traditional clothes, motifs, cloth-patterns, styles of wearing, (text and texture of clothing) which have been confided since time immemorial from one generation to another to express or to communicate their identity among the group or outside the group. Such traditional clothe, in other words, is known as folk costume6 is worn in relation to their community and it is some sort of symbol of identity of that community as well as the identity of the individual in relationship to/within the community. Meetei cloth plays a significant role in their social unification of social groups or tribes settled in various parts of the valley and hill under one belief system which is deeply rooted in God Pakhangba. Most of the motifs which are believed to be originated from the body of God Pakhangba are projected as pictorial diagrams. Most of these motifs are found in the traditional costumes and they reflect the identity, age, sex, gender, and social status of an individual and the communal life in its different stages.

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International Journal of Research in Social Sciences

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ISSN: 2249-2496 Impact Factor: 7.081

This paper is an attempt to understand the cultural identity of Meetei community from the text and the texture of clothing in a particular context of Lai-Haraoba, a communal ritual. Their cloth is recognized from their appearances and motifs which are woven as a decorative element. However, the motif or the design woven is not merely a decorative element, but is considered a remarkable art form of the Meetei ethnic identity. Myths, beliefs, nature and environment of the people constitute the Meetei art from which various visual image i.e. Motif germinates. The motif woven into a cloth carries certain meanings in relation to the wearer within the community and it is prescribed with a sense of social and cultural value. Meetei clothes and motifs influence and shape the social identities, including age, sex, social status and occupation. The text and the textural feature are the symbols of belief, but also express the tradition, that expresses their group identity. The main concern of this paper is the relationship between text and textural features of cloth and identity in the eyes of the group (Meetei) in various contexts at the level of both an individual and the group as a whole. Further, this paper tries to emphasize the motifs woven on the cloths in expressing the identity of the community and how the motifs are projected through folklore.
Meetei: An overview Meetei is one major ethnic group, who resides in the valley of Manipur. According to B. H. Hodgson, the ethnic name (term) Meetei is a combined appellation of Siamese „Tai‟ and Kochin Chinese „Moy‟ which is Moy Tai = Moytai = Moitai = Meitei.7 From the Meetei folk narratives, it is known that the name Meetei is derived from the creation of human being from the shadow of Almighty God Atiya Sidaba by his son Lord Sanamahi8. However, the term Meetei was coined by Ningthouja9 under a certain belief system to (in order to) integrate all the social groups or tribes settled in various parts of the valley and hill. Most of the ethnic and social groups are politically and socially integrated within the power of Ningthouja clan. Though many scholars worked on the ethnic groups of Manipur, the origin of the Meetei ethnic group is not able to trace yet. In spite of many controversies regarding its origin, it can be said that these ethnic groups emerged from the Mongoloid race.
In the Puya, an ancient text of the Meetei, it is mentioned that there were four Hangko or periods for gods namely Kahangko, Thoihangko, Teiyohangko, and Poihangko. After this period, there

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International Journal of Research in Social Sciences

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ISSN: 2249-2496 Impact Factor: 7.081

are four Chak (period) namely- Hayichak, Hayachak, Khununglangba chak, and Konchak before the Christian era. The first three Chaks were the periods of god and in the last period both god and humans lived together. The Konchak period began with God Ibudhou Konjin Tukthaba. He married seven Ibendhhou, also known as Lai Nura or Lairembi Taret originated from the body of the Almighty God Atingkok Kuru Sidaba. Each of the seven Lai Nura gave birth to seven sons each and become the progenitors of the seven Salai. Salai is derived from two words Sagei and Lai, which literal meaning is the progenitor of their lineage. The seven Salai of the Meetei are Mangang, Luwang, Khuman, Angom, Moirang, Khaba-Nganba and Sarang-Leishangthem. It is also believed that they are originated respectively from the seven ancestors- Nongda Lairen Pakhangba, Poreiton, Poreiromba, Poreiton, Nganghunthok, Thongaren, and Nungou Yumthangba.
However, other ancient texts like Poreiton Khunthok, Leisemlon, Kangbalon, Panthoibi Khongul,and Leithak Leikharol reveal that Angom, Moirang, Khaba-Nganba and Chenglei (Sarang-Leishangthem) already existed by the 1st century A.D, before the advent of the clans Mangang/Ningthouja, Luwang, and Khuman. Before integrating the groups as Meetei in one kingdom, each social groups or tribes were guided by their own territorial principle. However, when Mangang/Ningthouja dynasty was formed in the second century under the political power of Meidingu Nongda Lairen Pakhangba after defeating the king of Khaba who ruled at Kangla, the Meetei as one group was politically developed. From the time of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba, the system of clan principality was precipitated as a social and political system even if each clan has their autonomous principality and government in their respective territory under the separate rulers. Formation of the Meetei as a united group did not happen in one period. The matrimonial alliances between the clans made them to form one cultural identical group. In due course of time, all of them were under the sovereignty of Meetei king one after the other. „Meetei‟ became the common name of all seven Salai/clan after subduing Khaba Nganba Salai/clan in the second century A. D., and the formation was completed when Moirang Salai merged in the fifteenth century A. D.10
Meetei beliefs and practices are associated with spirits, ancestral worship which are deeply rooted in their behavior and perception. The beliefs and practices of their society exist in a

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ISSN: 2249-2496 Impact Factor: 7.081

polytheistic, animistic and naturalistic form. They worship their ancestors who are believed to be the originator of their life. They also worship the power of nature, sun, stars, fire, and believe in the existence of malevolent/benevolent spirits in the surrounding environment, forests, lakes and rivers. They also believe in free and liberated souls like Timu-Laimu and Sharoi-Ngaroi (evil spirits), Heloi (nymph), Hingchabis (witch) etc., who has the power to make a person suffer from diseases, unconsciousness and sometimes meet sudden death when a person roam in their vicinity. There are practices which are performed for warding off evil spirits by the concerned spiritual specialists Maiba/priest and Maibi /priestess. The chronicles and the ancient literary texts reveal that the ancient people of the land worshipped a number of deities. However, there are some Gods which are considered as Universal lord (Taibang Panba Mapu) such as - Atiya Kuru Sidaba/Soralel (the immortal God of Heaven/ Sky God), Sanamahi, and Pakhangba.
God Pakhangba is considered as one of the supreme gods and is referred to as Ibudhou Pakhangba. It is believed that God Pakhangba personifies in a mythical serpent, which looks like a dragon. This creature resides in various places like ponds, groves, mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, and caves which are considered as sacred by the community. According to their belief system, Meeteis are the descendants of God Pakhangba. A narrative11 reveals about how Konjin Tingthokpa was named as Pakhangba by his father and became the ruler of Meetei Kingdom. He is perceived as a human as well as a divine form who is meant for governing the social world. He is identified as the first human king and the last king of the „celestial age‟. In some of the narratives, Nongda Lairen Pakhangba was the first human king and he was the last son of god. He exists in the form of a serpent during daytime and as a human in the night time. Etymologically, Nongda Lairen Pakhangba means Nongda=God-sent, Lairen= python or serpent or dragon, and Pakhangba=one who knows the real father. “Nongda Lairen Pakhangba is the epitome of Meetei kingship. He is the model of kingship in the minds of every Meetei. All the later kings are identified as the descendants of this model king, inheriting both his blood and qualities.”12 There were 74 kings who ruled the kingdom of Manipur. The divinity of Pakhangba which is depicted in the form of Paphal was used as a heraldic emblem of the kingdom of Manipur in earlier periods and is still used as an emblem of the princely state. The Paphal is a symbolical representation of Lord Pakhangba which is depicted in the form of a mythical serpent hiding its own tail inside its mouth.

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ISSN: 2249-2496 Impact Factor: 7.081

The worshipping of God Pakhangba is associated with the Paphal cult where it is used as an instrument for bringing social and cultural integration of the Meetei community. There are 364 different forms, and it is illustrated in the ancient manuscript called Paphal Lambuba. The mythical serpent is represented in various sizes and shapes, in different colours and positions (encircle posture, long in body, symmetrically coiled in four corners in loops with both tails, the serpent having wings and legs, two bodies intertwined with each other, one with horn and in the form of a boat). These forms are symbolically associated with the divine power of controlling and protecting the community. Most of the Paphal are pictorially depicted in the motif of a serpent tail in his mouth, which symbolically represents the world beginning and ending with him. One of the most common gestures/postures is the image of the body coiled on all the four corners representing the respective deities of the four directions. There are different colours in the motif that signify each of the seven clans: reddish yellow stands for Mangang/Ningthouja, black for Khuman, white or bluish-white for Luwang, white for Angom, brown for Moirang, green for Chenglei, and violet for Khaba-Nganba. All these colours are used in the representation of Pakhangba. The shape and form is also found in the Meetei numeral and scripts. In most of the architecture, the gate of a temple has two projected shapes which are called Chirong that represents God Pakhangba. The motif of Pakhangba is used as an icon and in representing various social and political organizations.
The motif of Paphal exists not only in the pictorial images, but also in traditional performances. Traditional martial arts follow specific Paphal patterns in their body movement by holding spears. In Lai-Haraoba ritual, there is a cultural procession lead by the Maiba/priest, Maibi/priestess, and Penakhongba/music player along with men and women participants where the path follows the body movement of Paphal. The representation through visual images and performances gives a cultural symbolic meaning that connects the religious/sacred and the profane world. It directly connects the people in the living world to the supernatural world. These motifs become their folk element which is prevalently found in various art forms that has language to express their socio-cultural values and meaning. There are some other motifs of God Pakhangba which are found in the traditional clothes and in their costume. The Meetei clothes are woven either plainly or with some sort of motif arranged in systematic patterns. The motif is employed according to the cloth that is to be woven to the cloth. The weaver themselves classify

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ISSN: 2249-2496 Impact Factor: 7.081
the function of a cloth and weave accordingly while the motifs in the clothes denote the social identity of the wearer. Traditionally, women of all age, unmarried or married, except for the children were engaged in weaving activities. According to their myth13, the art of weaving began since time immemorial and is closely linked to the origin of their community. Women engage in weaving as an occupation and this tradition has generated technical knowledge and skills which are naturally passed down from the older generation to the newer generation exclusively through woman. Such engagement of work in the society by the womenfolk contributed in differentiating the two sexes and their role and identity. It led to the separation of roles and division of labor among the Meeteis. It is said that- „Nupa haibasidi sanmi lanmini, Nupi haibasidi phisa lonsa heigadoubani‟ meaning men are born as warriors and woman should have the knowledge of weaving. Weaving itself is an identity of the woman folk constructed by the community. The production of cloths depends on the availability of the material and the tools which are found abundantly in this geographical region. The craftsmen use different materials and tools to produce various types of cloths for the community depending upon their utility and the cultural and aesthetic values. They possess weaving looms such as back strap loom, throw the shuttle loom and fly-shuttle loom to produce different types of cloths for both man and woman. Depending on the demand and needs of the individual, they weave varied clothes.
Meetei Identity: Text and Texture of Clothing From the above discussion, it is evident that the Meitei community is not a homogenous, but a heterogeneous entity having seven Salai with each being geographically distributed in different environments. The Paphal cult binds them together representing one cultural identity. With the development of political movements in the construction of one group „Meetei‟ by the Ningthouja/Mangang clan, traditional clothing assumed a significant role. The political power of Ningthouja clan dominates the Meetei cultural ideals. At present time, the different clans exhibit their affiliation through the clothes they wear though they have their distinctive identities. Alan Dundes says that identity14 does not mean an absolute or perfect identity. But, even though there are variations or changes in various context and through time, a timeless definite identity persists which cannot be altered. Identity remains constant even if the physical constituents change. Identity is affiliated with certain symbols and the symbols stand for the individual and the group

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specifically. A symbol is a selected cultural element which is an essential feature of a collective identity system.15
As a symbol or the cultural element, Meetei cloth plays a significant role in the social unification under one belief system which is deeply rooted in their God Pakhangba. Most of the motifs which are believed to be derived from the body of mythical serpent god Pakhangba, they are Ningkham, Samjin, Mayek Naibi, Moirang Phijan or Yarong, Lamthang Khuthat/Namthang Khuthat, and Khamu Chappa/Khamen Chatpa. The cultural text i.e. cloth woven with certain textural features forms a superstructure that indicates the cultural meaning of the people who belong to that visual art. The texture in the Meetei‟s clothes is a significant component of the art to express meaning which stand as cultural symbol of identity. The emergence of motif in the Meetei art plays an important role in identifying or discerning their cultural worldview. The myths and ancient legends of the people, the emergence of Meetei as one group, and its impact on the culture and perception of Meetei people constitute the most important underlying principle in their folk arts. Accordingly, these kinds of ideology among weaver of the Meetei are also shown through clothes woven in considerable effects with various motifs. The motifs become an ideological representation of the people‟s perception which is projected through visual images. “Among its functions, folklore provides a socially sanctioned outlet for the expression of what cannot be articulated in the more usual, direct way.”16 The mythological conception of the world is nothing but a psychological projection towards the outer world. The motifs are visual images that the perception of Meetei community to the outer world. Though the ideology of the Mangang/Ningthouja clan interferes in the ideology of the other clans, the sense of a united identity is expressed through the patterns of wearing clothes.
In the Meetei culture, the traditional costumes are alike throughout the valley. Though there are different clans and different sections of people in the Meitei society (e.g. the Lois), they have a shared common traditional costume. In the process of incorporating and enriching one another‟s culture to form one common culture for all, clothing constitutes as a crucial symbol of national unity. There might be variation in their cultural products due to the varied geo-environmental conditions which gave varied scopes to each Salai/clan to construct their identity as a distinct group. But they all were brought under the Meetei nomenclature. Thus, clothing reflects a

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ISSN: 2249-2496 Impact Factor: 7.081

common „metaphor‟ for the entire group of Meetei who has shared cultural values and social norms. In another word, beliefs and impressions are on the mind and the essence of a culture. Thus, the worldview and the belief system of the communities are intertwined with the texture and design of the cultural product to form a comprehensive text to identify their ethnic group. Alan Dundes define texture is the language of an item „text‟ of folklore which has variant feature within a text that reveals variant expressive meaning in various context. Sometime text may be considered independent of its texture and may be translated. However, the result of analysis may contrast between the folkloristic structure and linguistic structure. The text and the texture of an item of folklore are not separated though they may be subjected to structural analysis.17 The text and the texture of clothing of their community can be clearly visible in their social performance. Folklorists have discussed that „context‟ has been narrowed down to „performances‟ to observe social and theatrical aspects. Investigation of contexts relevantly requires text to put into some kind of order. By analyzing motifs, types, and their texture, the context for a text will be briefly sketched their relation at various level.18 Language of a cloth is expressed when a wearer worn in certain context. The texture or motif determines meaning the text which is closely connected to the wearer to determined identity of an individual as well as for the community. The relationship of text and texture is found when both the items are connected to the specific setting and culture of those participating in the act of the communication.
According to the specific setting, Meetei uses various sets of clothes which are distinctive to the individual or the group reflecting their sex, age, social status, and ethnic identity. Such a set of cloth is worn to express the cultural identity of the wearer who represents a social character at a social event. Wearing traditional costumes is an important part of the religious ritual activities. “Folk Costume is the visible, outward badge of folk-group identity, worn consciously to express that identity.”19 The folk costume describes the dress of the traditional ethnic group. It identifies the wearer to the outside world as well as to a particular group or community as a distinct individual who is a part of a particular community. “In every case the costume is distinct and identifiable; it identifies the wearer to the outside world as well as to his own community; it is prescribed by the community and its form is dictated by the community‟s tradition.”20 The Folk costume is worn in relation to their community and it symbolizes the identity of the community as well as the identity of the individual in relationship to and within the community. According

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TExT AND TExTURE OF CLOTHING IN MEETEI COMMUNITY