A Frantic Search for Wangkhei Phee


Beauty is contagious. So is it evident in the intricate artwork of the Wangkhei Phee. Its origin can be traced back to those of Mama-Shija Leisaringei days. A saagei abok right from our kolup, (late) Akoijam Ningol Anabi, is credited for introducing the Wangkhei Phee. It might have taken an artistic ingenuity to design and weave the first of such a fine and delicate piece of cloth.

In the early days, older folks narrate Waikhu Matha and Thaangjing Tangkhai were two of the most popular designs; other designs followed sporadically. In the world of handloom and handicraft, Wangkhei Phee has found its niche, winning the hearts of connoisseurs and designers alike from across the world. However there is a catch.

Of late the trend of weaving as well as wearing the Wangkhei Phee is becoming out of fashion. When we were kids too, almost every household in our locality had a yongkham, the weaving machine, and at least one female member of the family was adept in making the finest Wangkhei Phee. But the times they are a-changing. There might be reasons, of course, for this downfall. Yet whatever these are, we can see there is a great chance of Wangkhei Phee sinking into oblivion in the near future, if the present trend continues.

No wonder the number of Wangkhei Phee weavers has drastically decreased in the last decade or so. I did a little survey on this issue and found a couple of reasons. Most of the weavers are simply not interested to weave and keep its tradition alive. Now the potential customers are going for the cheaper, though beautiful alternatives that are available galore in the market.

Another obvious reason is the demise of the pioneers of this type of garment. Most of the skilled weavers have also gotten married and are running errands, earning a livelihood from a better means. Also some of them have got other opportunities of employment.

Weaving is quite an art. However, pursuing it as a lifetime occupation is not an artistic endeavour, but literally a pain in the back for many weavers. So, most of them prefer to opt for an easier career option that does not require long hours of sitting, bending and weaving. Earlier, there were a few means of earning income for the unmarried and married women in our society. Weaving was, thus, one of the easiest means to start earning a livelihood. But the situation is different now.

At present, for some keen weavers who want to culture this practice, weaving is a passion rather a preservation of a precious art. They make it a lifelong passion and strive to pass on their skill to the younger generation. Thanks to them. But for the major chunk of weavers, who used to take up weaving as a means of earning a nominal income, they lost interest in it once they have a better means of income. Needless to say, most of the skilled weavers seem to have taken a collective resolution not to pursue their weaving interest these days.

With wedding season round the corner, young and old have started importing Mayaanglamgi Phee. A friend’s wedding is scheduled in the last week of this month. I asked my two sisters about a decent Phee to wear on this occasion. They suggested a lot of options – Jhamaki Thinbi, Lighti-Fitting types and all.

I feel sorry for them who are spending only on the export-quality products, while doing away with the original and aesthetically pleasing Wangkhei Phee. An appreciation of alien beauty is ubiquitous at the cost of losing our own culture and identity. Well, it’s not their fault either. That’s the hard-to-digest, yet prevailing reality.

We are not keen to preserve what we have and what is ours. We are stingy enough to buy a locally woven piece of garment but when it comes to a swanky piece of imported cloth from a different region, we do not mind emptying the pocket. The expression ‘Lamgi Sun-na Machi Saang E’ has found new meanings.

I hardly have any suggestion; neither has it been clear whose attention we have to draw in reigniting an interest of weaving among Wangkhei weavers and those from elsewhere. But I’m planning to dig deeper and find a few more details about Wangkhei Phee and other types of garments that were once popular in Kangleipak. Beauty is indeed a joy forever and it is found abundantly in these kinds of clothing. My frantic search for ‘Wangkhei Phee’ and its weavers is a reason to spread the beauty. This hunting can also be a reason to be ridiculed by many people from our modern society — the so-called ‘Standard Ta Netpa Kaang-goo’. But I can ignore their cynicism for I’m used to it. Que sera sera, the pursuit is on!

This article was published on 14 Oct 2012
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