What No One Tells You About Jewellery From North East India

The North East Seven Sister states, also called “Paradise Unexplored” are the contiguous states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura in northeastern India. These states have evidences of human settlements from the Stone ages.  Except for Assam, where the major language is Assamese, and Tripura, where the major language is Bengali, the region has a predominantly tribal population. A compact geographical unit, the Northeast is isolated from the rest of India except through the Siliguri Corridor, a slender corridor flanked by foreign countries. Assam is the gateway through which these sister states are connected to Indian mainland.

Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh, which means “land of the dawn-lit mountains“, is also known as the “Orchid State of India” or the “Paradise of the Botanists”. Geographically, it is the largest among the Seven Sister States .

IndianBijou_Arunachal Pradesh

There are around twenty major tribes and sub-tribes in Arunachal Pradesh. These tribes are famous for exquisite jewellery made from materials such as beads, wild seeds, feathers of birds, green wings of beetles, brass, bones, ivory, silver and gold. Tribal women use necklaces, headbands, bracelets and belts not just as an embellishment, but also as a sign of prestige as they believe that jewellery enhances their womanhood.

IndianBijou_Arunachal Pradesh_Adi Galo

Jewellery is also a form of distinguishing each tribe. The Wancho tribe creates earrings made out of bamboo, cane, glass beads, seeds, and reed. The Karka Gallong tribal group wears metal coin necklaces and leather waistbands with stones.  Nishi tribesmen have a unique headdress – a massive knot of hair rolled into a bun over their forehead. They decorate their headdress with feathers of the great hornbill bird, Arunachal Pradesh’s signature bird. The Apatani tribe is the only group that forges iron bracelets made by the blacksmiths.

IndianBijou_Apatani_Arunachal Pradesh_tribe

 Apatani Tribe

Assam

Assam is located in North-East India and is surrounded by all six of the other Seven Sister States. Assam is a state of multiple tribes. The main tribes of Assam are

  • Bodo
  • Karbi
  • Mishing
  • Phake

IndianBijou_Assam

Assam has a rich tradition of manufacturing gold jewellery dating back several centuries. Gold was abundantly found in a number of Himalayan Rivers flowing throughout the state. A tribe called Sonowal Kacharis was involved in gold extraction from the rivers. Assamese jewellery designs mostly depict local floral and fauna. The designs are simple but use gemstones such as ruby. Black, red and green enameling on gold jewellery is very popular as these colors also dominate the traditional dresses of tribes and communities of Assam.

The traditional ornaments of Assam include Doog-dogi, Kerumoni, Thuriya, Gaam- kharu, Muthi- kharu, Jonbiri, Dholbiri, Loka- paro, Bana, Gal- pata and Keru. Bana or jonberi is a crescent-shaped overhanging packed with lac for a cushioned effect. A large bangle with a clasp called Gaam kharu is prepared in silver with gold polish and enamel work. Jethi pota is a wide band of cloth placed as a row of small medallions, with a central pendant. The most interesting piece of Assamese jewellery is an ear ring known as kopo phool. It looks like two small shoes jointly attached to a floral segment on top which is further connected to a chain. Loka- paro is an earring embellished with twin birds, placed one after the other.

IndianBijou_Gaam Kharu_Assam_jewellery

Gaam Kharu

IndianBijou_Loko Paro_Assam_Jewellery

Loko Paro

Manipur

Also known as a “Flower on the Lofty Heights“, Manipur has been at the crossroads of Asian economic and cultural exchange for more than 2,500 years. It has long connected the Indian subcontinent to Southeast Asia, enabling migration of people, cultures and religions. Manipur is credited with introducing Polo to Europe.

IndianBijou_Manipur

The people of Manipur are grouped into three main ethnic communities

  1. Meiteis i.e. those inhabiting the valley
  2. Nagas & Kuki-Chins are the two main ethno-denominations that the 29 major tribes in the hills are divided into.

IndianBijou_Meitis_Manipur_Tribe

 Meiteis Bride

IndianBijou_Kuku Chin_Manipur_Tribe

Kuki-Chin Tribe

Meghalaya

Meghalaya means “the abode of clouds” in Sanskrit. The capital is Shillong, known as “Scotland of the East”. It is said that the rolling hills around the town reminded the European settlers of Scotland.

IndianBijou_Shillong_Meghalaya

The main tribes of Meghalaya are

  • Khasis
  • Jaintias
  • Garos

The Khasis inhabit the eastern part of Meghalaya, in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. Khasis residing in Jaintia hills are now better known as Jaintias. The Garos are one of the few remaining matrilineal societies in the world.

Jewelry in Meghalaya is so important that it is worn both by men and women. Skillfully crafted ornaments of gold, silver and beads form part of Meghalaya’s rich costumes. The gold beads are hollow spheres filled with lac. Among the important jewelry of Meghalaya, which are worn by the women are

  • Wahdong
  • Siar Kynthei
  • Lakyrdeng
  • Ki tad ki mahu
  • Shah ryndand
  • Kanupad

IndianBijou_Meghalaya_Jaintia_Tribe

Jaintia Tribe

IndianBijou_Meghalaya_Garo_tribe

Garo Tribe

Khasi Festival in Meghalaya

Mizoram

The state’s name means “land of the hill people” as it is derived from Mi (people), Zo (hill) and Ram (land) and the people are known as Mizos (Mi means People, Zo means Hill; Mizo thus means hillmen)

IndianBijou_Mizoram

About 95% of current Mizoram population is of diverse tribal origins who settled in the state, mostly from south-east Asia, over waves of migration starting about 16th century but mainly in 18th century.  This is the highest concentration of tribal people among all states of India. These several ethnic tribes are either culturally or linguistically linked. The Mizo tribals make use of shells, bones, animal claws, teeth and semi-precious stones for jewellery.

IndianBijou_Mizoram_Tribe

 

IndianBijou_Mizo_necklace

 Necklace made from glass beads, fabric, shells and pangolin claws

Nagaland

The Naga people are a conglomeration of 17 major tribes and sub-tribes. They form the majority ethnic group in Nagaland, with significant presence in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and small population in Assam. The conventional view is that the word ‘Naga’ originated from the Burmese word ‘Naka’, meaning people with earrings. When the British inquired Burmese guides about these tribes, ‘Naka’ was recorded as ‘Naga’, and has been in use thereafter.

IndianBijou_Nagaland

Kohima is the state capital and the land of the Angami Naga tribe. The name, Kohima, was officially given by the British as they could not pronounce the Angami name Kewhima (meaning “the land where the flower Kewhi grows“).

Each tribe is unique in character with its own distinct customs, language and dress. But there are two common threads, language and religion. English is in predominant use and Nagaland is one of three states in India where the population is predominantly Christian. Jewelry is an important part of Naga identity, with the entire tribe wearing similar bead jewelry. Nagas use beads with variety, profusion and complexity in their jewelry, along with a wide range of materials, including glass, shell, stone, teeth or tusk, claws, horns, metal, bone, wood, seeds, hair, and fibre.

IndianBijou_Naga_Jewellery

 Beetle wing & Shell Ornament Naga Konyak Tribe

IndianBijou_Nagaland_Jewellery

Necklace from brass bars & bells

Sikkim

Nestled in the Himalayas, Sikkim is the least populous state in India and the second-smallest state after Goa in total area. The most widely accepted origin theory of the name Sikkim is that it is a combination of two Limbu words: su, which means “new”, and khyim, which means “palace” or “house”. The Tibetan name for Sikkim is Drenjong, which means “valley of rice”, while the Bhutias call it Beyul Demazong, which means ‘”the hidden valley of rice”. The Lepcha people, the original inhabitants of Sikkim, called it Nye-mae-el, meaning “paradise”.

IndianBijou_Sikkim

The main tribes of Sikkim are

  • Bhutias
  • Lepchas
  • Tibetans

The native Sikkimese consist of the Bhutias, who migrated from the Kham district of Tibet in the 14th century, and the Lepchas, who are believed to have migrated from the Far East. Tibetans reside mostly in the northern and eastern reaches of the state

IndianBijou_Sikkim_Lepcha_Jewellery

Lepcha Woman

Sikkimese jewellery depicts the different tastes of these 3 ethnic groups. Lepcha men don’t wear any jewellery except amulets given by monks. Bhutia women wear necklaces of various designs called Khou, Ka-Chung and Zuri. Bhutia name for different ornaments are ten-dab (earrings), zuku (ring) and deu (bracelet). All ornaments are made of gold and studded with precious stones and dzi.

IndianBijou_Sikkim_Jewellery

Tripura

It is the third-smallest state in India and was ruled for several centuries by the Tripuri dynasty. Tripura lies in a geographically disadvantageous location as only one major highway, the National Highway 44, connects it with the rest of the country

The  name Tripura  means “three cities” in Sanskrit (corresponding to the Greek Tripolis). However, there have been suggestions that the origin of the name Tripura lies in a folk etymology of a Tibeto-Burman (Kokborok) name. The Kokborok speaking Tripuri people are the major group among 19 tribes and many subtribes.

IndianBijou_Tripura

Jewellery making is an essential form of Tripura’s arts and crafts. The tribals use various materials such as bronze, silver and copper to make ornaments like necklaces, earrings, rings, nose rings and bangles. The most well-known of Tripura jewellery is necklace made with coins.

IndianBijou_Tripura_Jewellery

 

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3 thoughts on “What No One Tells You About Jewellery From North East India

  1. The picture you have labeled as Lepcha Woman is actually a nepali woman. The markers are jewellery she is wearing. also Sikkim and assam are inhabited by Nepali tribes as well.

    Like

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