Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
It appears to me from media, from the TV shows, films and music, especially those from Hollywood & Bollywood, that the world today is obsessed and preoccupied with matters of the heart & the loins. Not to sound prudish – but there are many activities that people engage in, that do not warrant the attention they get in today’s entertainment / media. ‘Watching’ men and women hunt for partners is really as absurd ‘watching’ them perform their daily ablutions!
This has nothing to do with what I started to write about except that both, my rant above and the textiles I am looking at today, share a common word: Loin.
In the hilltribes of South Asia, in the Golden Triangle and beyond, loin cloths are, or rather were the preferred costume of men.
In the hot and muggy summers, I guess this minimal form of clothing was purely functional, concealing only some of the critical assets*.
[* Richard Dawkins points out that it is only in the human species that the women preen and do all they can to attract the attention of the males while in every other species it is the male that preens. In peacocks, in lions …. the male has all the visible beauty and they are the ones who flaunt it and vie for the attention of the female. For some mysterious reason, in humans it is the females that do that by dressing up and exposing their assets. And the human males cover up! Worth wondering about!]
Coming back to the frugal loin cloth…. these strips of cloth are worn by in several regions in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia and India and differ in the format across the regions. Some are merely 2 feet long while others are 4 meters long! Some go over the shoulder in addition to the waist while others just have a front with a wooden element on the back. In the past, loincloth made of bark or animal skin, were common while today cotton loincloths are the most prevalent.
But it seems that across all regions, the humble textile that began as a frugal and functional garment, eventually got embellished and beautified. And as the pictures below show us, loin cloths turned into works of textile art. Lead beads, white glass & plastic beads, tassels, cowrie shells and brass medallions were added to infuse symbolism and beauty into the piece.
Here I present some photos that were sent to me years ago:
Others from my own photo library taken in 2010 in Arunachal Pradesh & Nagaland:
In the last group, the artistry lies not only in the exceptionally beautiful loin cloths but also the complete costume! Absolutely magnificent!
It amuses me to think that the exposure in the photos above might raise a few eyebrows, while similar exposure by women is considered commonplace and acceptable!
See more photos from Nagaland here
Excellent examples of loin cloths from the hilltribes gallery of wovensouls and one more that has left us regrettably! Sigh!
By Jaina Mishra