"India will become a major player" Eric Hobsbawm: After the XXth Century: A World in Transition.
This November I went in search of Khasi Women Wisdom and what I found was so much more from both men and women. A multitude of perspectives from both men and women participating equally with scarce resources, focusing on important values such as education, organic agriculture, environmental and arts activism and preservation.
Here in the first part of Khasi Women Wisdom. These stories from Khasi women give insight and weave the tapestry of this unique social framework and matrilineal society that has influenced the culture and arts of this region: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/exhi...
The second part is through Weaving Freedom in Meghalaya: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/exhi...
This documentary and exhibition, explores the artistic, sustainable fashion initiatives of Nongtluh Women Weaving Cooperative and Impulse Enterprises run by Hasina Kharbhih. Impulse Power is mitigating human trafficking and providing a rich network in which women can use and improve their weaving skills to create artisans products that can be sold both locally and internationally. The symbols from their tribal traditions are interwoven with their artistic work. The Nongtluh Weaving Cooperative is using natural plant and vegetable dyes, as well as sustainable practices that are aligned with the natural ecosystem in Meghalaya. The more we can understand these practices, the more we can scale these initiatives so that sustainable and ethical fashion does not just become an alternative, it becomes the way to produce fashion that is central to all our lives. Only then can we live more in harmony with nature, without destroying its vast and plentiful resources for our own desire or gain.
The Khasi, who number about 1 million in India's north-eastern state of Meghalaya, carry on the matrilineal tradition. The youngest daughter inherits, children take their mother's surname, and once married, men live in their mother-in-law's home. The men have equal status, the importance of women in the Khasi tribe does not make men any less important to the development of social relations and role in family and professional life. Men are seen as managers, counselors, protectors and teachers. Many of the men that I met were doctors, studying for their Doctorates in folklore and cultural studies focusing on the Khasi traditions whilst having one step in the modern world. Other men were photographers, film-makers, environmental activists, curriculum designers, land and farm owners--often these men had dual or triple roles and were not seen as anything less than female counterparts, but integral to the fabric of Khasi society and daily life. Whilst women were seen as custodians of property and lineage, men often took the role as custodians of knowledge and Khasi traditions, expressed in modern and innovative ways. This is not to say that women did not hold that position as transfer of knowledge to next generations or the outside world, as they most certainly did.
One of the first people that I met was Hasina Kharbhih pictured in her Impulse office in Shillong.
She talked about how her Impulse NGO Network is not just rescuing countless victims and fighting traffickers across the eight states of the north east, but also created awareness and support groups around the issue and its causes. This is all done by giving The Karbi women who are expert weavers a platform in which their tribal patterns can find expression in the global stage. This gives the women and their work exposure so that their risk of being trafficked is weakened as they become self-sustaining by bringing their traditions forward in innovative ways. Their patterns were designed onto laptop and tote bags, scarfs and fashionable skirts. http://jtamsin.blogspot.de/2016/10/follow-your-imp..
I met Mayfreen Ryntathiang on a sunny Sunday afternoon after a bumpy drive into the hills through cherry blossom lined streets. http://jtamsin.blogspot.de/2016/11/voice-of-voicel...Mayfreen lives in a bright, freshly painted house. In the hallway was a bright blue drum kit, I thought this might be because she had children, but Mayfreen had neither children or a husband and was happily living in her newly built house by herself. Mayfreen tirelessly campaigns for the rights of the Khasi tribe as well as being a documentary film-maker and and initiating an animation for children to learn from both their traditions and the modern world.
Iba Blah: http://jtamsin.blogspot.de/2016/10/queen-honey-bee... with her husband Peter has been developing her organic health farm that grows Aloe Vera and pineapples as well as her bee hives cultivating rare organic honey. The road that leads to the farm is often clogged with piles of dirt and rocks making it more remote and difficult to get to than needed. With the recent acquisition of organic chickens the farm is only just sustainable enough to keep one small family alive and send the 10 year old boy to school. Having spoken to the young boy, he needs more schooling as he can hardly string a sentence together or add. Peter and Iba's plans are not only to provide sustainable organic farming for more families in the area but also to provide a health retreat, so that people can learn about nutrition and healthy living. Furthermore, Peter, Iba's husband has plans to build a school so that more children like the boy on the farm lacking schooling can have more support to advance his already behind schooling. Support for this project will go directly to their initiatives. The family that were being supported through the small income from the farm, did not have electricity. They cooked by candle light and on over a small wood stove in the darkness that came early shortly after 6pm.
We visited Nongtluh Women Weaving co-operative out in the Umden Diwon village in the hills. We got up at 4:30am to reach the collective through the early morning mist with enough time to visit St. Mary's women's college in the afternoon, where we presented the raw footage and found the young 21 year olds to be delighted, surprised and inspired by our director's uncut version of our documentary.
One of the women in the audience voiced how she was actually from the same village, but she was not aware that this collective existed. It inspired her to spread the word and find out more about the initiative. I realised from this experience that outside influence, often provide people who are operating in a society or culture a chance to look more closely at the familiar and see it as unfamiliar, dynamic and open to new possibilities of influence and effective change. Beverley Kharsyntiew, a local entrepreneur in Shillong arranged a presentation at St. Mary's college and spoke up candidly about the possibilities of educated women with resources to get involved in local initiatives such as the Nongtluh Women Weaving co-operative Funding raised will go to support the co-operative, providing more women with the potential to be trained and find work so that they can lift themselves out of poverty.
Sweetymon Rynjah became a co-author of this visual ethnography. She was the first Khasi woman to pass the Assam Civil Service and has written many books to teach others about her culture and how the intrinsic values can be found in other cultures, but just expressed in their own unique way. With the final visual ethnography we will be going into schools exploring how to engage girls and women as well as boys and men all over the world--as well as in her native Shillong in a process of engaging with this particularly unique matrilineal tribe so that they can develop their own empowerment to increase equality between genders. Your funding will support these activities so that there can less inequality between men and women.On the last day, I was able to witness one of the most important Khasi traditions of the year. 'Shad Nongkrem' is a dance of thanksgiving of the Hima Khyrim. In preparation for this, the people of the Khyrim kingdom gather as a community once a year on the premises of Ling Sad (where the ruler resides) and renovate second half of the thatched roof. Traditionally, the replacement of the thatch is done only on one side each year. This time the right side. Children, women and men come together symbolising respect & support for the Khyrim Kingdom. Your funding will support education about these traditions so that people both within the Khasi society and those outside can understand it better, giving minorities a deserved place in a diverse and rich Indian society. Many who do not know about their traditions are loosing a sense of being and community and are at risk of turning to drink or greed as sources of false consciousness.
"Discontinuities in art traditions are common in history and especially threatening to the the crafts in small cultures when the traditional means of transmitting skills from one generation falls into disuse. It is at this point when schools have to provide the means for continuity. At the same time such schools must make it possible for young artists to be able to participate in the global aesthetic driven by technological innovations in the arts". Hans Guggenheim
On the last day, I was lucky enough to have a round table discussion with the arts collective Native Arts: https://www.facebook.com/Ki.Sainkupar/ From this discussion I discovered that the founding members were able not only concerned with the legitimisation of arts and crafts from the region and how to bring that art into the light but also they are deeply concerned about environmental issues in Meghalaya, that find their voice through their photography and film. By hosting photography workshops, participants are not only able to learn about their natural landscape but also new scientific developments that inform worn out and sometimes unsustainable long held beliefs that may harm their natural environment. By focusing on challenges and Interventions, native arts goes way beyond the average art collective into an integral initiative to the development of a sustainable society. Your funding will support these initiatives so that more artists can be trained giving them further education and more opportunities for their skills to find a platform beyond obscurity. You may notice candles on the table, because the lights went out before we started the discussion, due to the lack of water in the hydro-powered dam that was powering the electricity.
I have tried to give just a glimpse of the integrity and admirable values from Shillong in Meghalaya. This is just a brief look into the incredible initiatives that are taking place through these leaders in the community, that have in mind the next generations, that will benefit from sustainable environmental and social practices that will boost the area despite scare resources and often difficult conditions. What I noticed more than anything was that education led the way on so many levels, to bring about greater enlightenment for those leading the movements and those participating. There was a dynamic that was admirable of strong and wise people taking their concerns into their own hands and ploughing though with little outside help or influence. My aim is that this funding campaign will not only contribute to the making of this documentary to spread the word to other communities around the world about matrilineal society and how to be self-sustaining through an interactive online exhibition that will be a living archive for generations to come--at the time of writing Modi demonitised 1000 and 500 notes making it difficult to operate, which led to the community binding together and the gift economy became stronger--but also to support the initiatives within this documentary that need support to survive. Contributions will be sent directly to the initiative of your choice, you only need to state which you would like to support.
In our society where we often take for granted electricity, education, employment, food and clean water, here in Shillong there is a strong community that has established a community based on strong values of education, moral and scientific understanding, skillful craftsmanship and arts education, sustainability and environmental awareness that need support to focus on these higher level values through getting their basic needs covered. Any funds raised will not only go into the making of this documentary and online exhibition but also to the sustainability of these initiatives of your choice.
Photography and film: (c) Sawdamut Kharbuki & Ebor Tariang