BBC World Service - Outlook, India's amazing sand artist | | PRESS RELEASE

Tribal Handicrafts

  Tribal Handicraft
Tribal Handicrafts -

Orissa's Adivasis are born artisans and craftsmen and produce exquisitely beautiful handicrafts with the most rudimentary of raw materials.

Though there are very few potters among the tribes, the tribal people extend their patronage to the other potters. The elemental quality of earth as a substance has long been used by them in the execution of both ritual and utilitarian objects. A variety of roof tiles, utensils such as pots, bowls, plates and jars, and cooking stoves meet specific requirements of daily life. Simultaneously the potter creates votive offerings in strong forms of bulls, elephants and horses as well as terracotta temples and toys.

Bamboo and cane have all the fertile, lively and tactile qualities of nature's raw materials which crafts persons have successfully harnessed. The structural qualities of bamboo, its high-tensile strength and pliability have led to its widespread use for architectural purposes. Besides which, bamboo splits are woven together to make baskets of diverse shapes and sizes depending on the nature of goods they are required to carry or store. Similarly the elasticity and sturdiness of cane has been utilized in the manufacture of a variety of domestic goods, while countless local fibers and reeds are used by people with household skills to make ropes, strings, brooms and the like. These products are largely geared for local consumption. However, the potential of these materials is so great that new applications can be explored for the new customers.

Paper Mache :
This skill has been creatively practiced by crafts persons from all over Orissa. Paper, waste cloth and different kinds of natural fibers are soaked and beaten into a pulp, then mixed with a variety of seeds and gums for strength and as protection from termites. Special clays and bio-wastes are added for body and reinforcement. The entire process results in a malleable that it requires little skill to be molded into countless forms. However, despite its versatility this craft has remained neglected.

Plasters :
The application of plasters to her dwellings is often the rural woman's medium of creative expression reflecting both in terms of colors and symbols, the close identification of man with nature. From clay come the colors ochre, geru, charcoal grey and white which are either used naturally or mixed with pigments purchased from the markets. The images created by her are timeless yet ephemeral, with the sun and the rain taking their toll. The predominantly geometric forms - a straight line, a square covered in dots, waves, triangles pointing to the sky and downwards - can have the most disparate of meanings but the symbolism of fertility is implicit in all of them. The tools used for applying the plasters whether on hut walls or floors are basic. They use twigs, fingers, whole hands and rags.

Stone :
Artisans practicing the craft of stone carving in Orissa have remained largely tradition-bound while producing objects of ritualistic, decorative and practical use. Turned utensils for both cooking and serving and artifacts of tourist interest are made in Khiching located on the borders of Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts, from a semihard, grey stone which takes on a deep, dark polish, while beads and figurines are carved out of soft stones available in many shades of orange in Phulbani district.

Theatre crafts :
The Desiya Nata of tribal Orissa derives its distinctive style in some part from Prahlada Natakams and Jatras of the Hindus. Its colorful costumes - embroidered head-dresses and painted masks which adorn the key actors, and the use of imaginative props are a craft in themselves. Masks carved out of paper mache and sholapith, the weightless bark of a water plant, represent various gods, goddesses, demons and animals.

In Koraput district alone, at least 200 different varieties of rice are produced or grow wild. Some are for consumption during festivals and marriages, others for their taste, colour or smell, and yet others are grown for their pesticidal or soil- fertilization characteristics. The traditional dependence of many indigenous communities on biological resources is also evidenced in the use of several plants which have medicinal values. For instance, the stem of the 'Hadbhanga' plant is applied to fractured bones for quicker mending and the fruit of the 'Utkapali' is used to cure migraine. However, the rapid destruction of forest cover, pollution of water-bodies along with pesticide poisoning and a host of such destructive activities have taken their toll.

The knowledge and use of vegetable and mineral dyes goes back to pre-historic times in India where, according to data collected so far, there are nearly 300 dye-yielding plants available. However, after chemical colours flooded the markets, only a small number of dyers continued with natural dyes such as indigo. Cotton yarn dyed in madder is still used by the weavers of Kotpad in Koraput district. In an age where the tide is turning against the use of synthetic dyes in the rest of the world, one needs to promote the use of eco- and wearer-friendly natural dyes in this country.

Tribal women have been the traditional gatherers of leaves whose delicate hues and unique qualities have been used in a multitude of ways for the manufacture of useful products. Farm labourers and cattle grazers wear hats made of dried leaves which provide protection from the sun and are water-proof. In temples and at village feasts, food is still served in leaf plates and bowls. Given the rising demand for biodegradable goods in a world which is becoming more ecologically aware, one has to find if it is possible to evolve a range of highly durable, hygienic leaf-product tableware which can meet the most stringent international quality standards!

Lacquer is the refuse of an insect gathered by the tribals in the forests. The Hindu women of Baleshwar and Nabarangpur districts mix it with colours and apply it on small cane boxes made by tribals, and terracotta figures which they make themselves. After sealing the core with several coats of lacquer, the surface is decorated with motifs borrowed from nature, geometric patterns and religious symbols. Although the visual power of colour and design combine to give ornamental effect, the artisans have not explored the area of material, form and technique.

Rich in minerals, tribal Orissa offers many variations in the types of metal used, the techniques and form of production, combining both the functional and the aesthetic, from the rivetting of the flexible brass fishes, snakes and crocodiles of Phulbani district, to the tiny bronze-cast beads shaped like grains. The rice and oil measures of Sambalpur and Bolangir made from bell metal, and Dhokra-ware both richly decorated with tribal motifs, as well as the bronze figures crafted for the Kondh tribes, are just a few examples.

Tribal paintings are like prayers that become part of the offerings made to gods, ancestors and spirits. Members of the Saora tribe draw ritualistic pictographs on the inner walls of their mud dwellings called 'Ittlans'. The icons are painted to preserve the abundance of the crops, avert disease, honor the dead, promote fertility, honour the tutelaries and so on. The spirit is then invoked and invited to occupy the one dimensional painting which actually represents a house made for it. Once captured therein, it is propitiated with appropriate chanting. The icons are a curious amalgamation of an early memory and contemporary impressions. Since they are basically the expressions of an agricultural community there is an emphasis on nature, the great outdoors and also on the cycle of plough, sowing and harvesting. But as the outside world increasingly impinges on their lives, cars, chairs, tables and planes have begun to appear innocently in the paintings, and are offered as vehicles for their gods in hierarchical order.