In the opinion of Jawaharlal Handoo, the noted folklorist of India, one of the most interesting and fascinating aspects of material culture of India is its arts and crafts (Handoo, 1989: 17). In this regard we have to consider what culture is.
Britanica Ready Reference Encyclopedia defines culture as:
Integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief and behavior that is both a result of integral to the human capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge of succeeding generations. Culture thus consists of language, ideas, beliefs, customs, taboos, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals, ceremonies and symbols.
Thus, we can consider culture as an integrated knowledge of rituals and beliefs, among others, imbibed from generations. Among the rituals and beliefs one which we practice is considered as material culture. This material culture is one of the many components of material folklore.
To name a few of material folklore, we have folk crafts, folk architecture, folk paintings, folk sculptures, folk costumes, and folk food ways. In brief, the materials which we use in our folklife are all the parts of material folklore. Among the many components of folklore the material folklore is the most comprehensive. As all of the material folklore are handcrafted objects they are considered as artifacts.
These artifacts of material folklore has carved niche in Manipuri Society. Examples of material folklore items are handloom products woven by Manipuri women, aesthetic items of different decorative designs, unique designs in dress making, architecture, jewellery, bamboo products, etc.
Basket making craft which is one of the most important crafts of Manipuri society is an inseparable entity of our Meitei culture. All the basket products are made of bamboo and cane. The rim of the basket made of bamboo is fastened with cane for more strength. In the ritual ceremonies of Manipuri society bamboo products occupy an integral part since time immemorial.
During Epan Thaba ceremony (a ceremony held on the sixth day of birth of a child) there is a ritual where maibi (midwife) asks the mother or the grandmother of the new-born, “Echa lougera? Yangkok lougera?” (Will you take your child or the winnowing basket?).
The mother or the grandmother replies, “Echa louge” (I will take my child). Thus yangkok (winnowing basket) is used as a very important item in our Meitei culture.
In our Manipuri folktale ‘Houdong Lamboiba‘ houdong lamboiba (the monk cat) asks the pebet (a small bird) “How are my features?” And the pebet replies, “Your beauty is like ngari pareng achumba (fermented dry fish arranged in a row), and phou sangbai athanba (a basketful of paddy)”. This proves that bamboo baskets like phou sangbai are in use since generations.
Meruk (a small basket for measuring rice) is mostly used for measuring a quantity of rice before cooking everyday in our kitchen. It is used metaphorically for its small size and height. When we compare something for smallness or dwarfism we use the term ‘merukmuktang chao-i‘ (it is as big as a meruk), ‘merukmuktang wang-i‘ (it is as tall as a meruk).
In Manipuri folk belief it is considered as having the property of curing mithou (sty), if one throws the meruk backward from in between one’s two legs apart standing at the front door of house facing the interior room after covering the affected eye with the meruk for a while at night before sleeping.
There is also a saying that “a family living in a house built without any bamboo can never be a happy one” (Basanta, 2010: 246). Since time immemorial in the Manipur society the bamboo products are an integral part of life. And also, for the people in bamboo making business it is a means of earning for their livelihood and support to family.
A few items of the bamboo products which are commonly used in Manipur are:
- Chengjamluk (a small basket generally used for washing rice before cooking)
- Kao (a simple fishing trap made of bamboo chatai)
- Kharai (a circular mesh made of splintered bamboo used for drying fish)
- Laitang (a measuring basket; quarter of sangbai)
- Likhai (a measuring basket; half of sangbai)
- Long-ngup (a kind of fishing trap made of bamboo)
- Lu (a kind of fishing trap of different designs made of bamboo)
- Lukmai (a round and shallow basket of different sizes with a circular leg)
- Meruk (a small measuring basket)
- Ngarubak (a basket with cover used for keeping dry fish)
- Phaklong (a kind of mat made of bamboo)
- Phiruk (a covered basket generally used in rituals)
- Phoura (a big circular shallow basket, used for drying paddy in the sun)
- Polang (a kind of basket-like sieve/hamper)
- Sairuk (a kind of handy basket with leg)
- Sangbai (a large measuring basket)
- Thumok (a basket made of bamboo and cane)
- Tungol (a bamboo pot for keeping caught fish)
- Yangkok (a winnowing basket/fan)
- Yempak (a kind of umbrella made of bamboo)
For more of Manipuri folklore and the arts and crafts of Manipur.
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