Shillong, Nov 30: ‘The young mind might launch a rocket into orbit, the old mind always fill the clay pot’ as the old saying might sound little out of place today, but modern amenities per se are just a derivation from the perpetual past where the stark reality of cookery genesis were incredulously baked and not melted.
The cradle of civilization revolved around earthen pottery and the indigenous inhabitants of this region nurtured the legacy and eventually help evolved an ethnically distinct race which came to be known as Khasi-Pnar and the Garos.
The ethnology of different ethnic groups in the region had intimate affinity with earthen pottery which once upon a time was a part and parcel of their daily livelihood. The clay pottery buried past till hitherto in this part of the world is not so deep to take it as vivid antiquity artifacts.
Not many yet not entirely some of indigenous fire- clay pottery making remnant are still found to be practiced in few part of the state in Meghalaya. Larnai, a small village roughly 3 hours drive away from Shillong in Jaintia hills district is virtually the only known place.
Ecological distribution make the Jaintia hills district a distinctively rich region in mineral resources.
Apart from coal and limestone other variety of mineral deposits ranging from shale, phosphate, bauxite and fire clay are abundantly found in the region. Fire- clay, a naturally argillaceous refractory clay which is abundantly found in this region is likely the only place known of its deposit.
The people in Larnai village from time immemorial have used this fire clay to make pottery and to lesser extent still practice in this modern times.
Larnai and Tarshing are two prime locations with such indigenous terracotta crafting still in existence identifying the Khasi races with terracotta handicraft. The crude art of making pottery without spinning wheel is in itself a piece of traditional handicraft art using only hands which the villagers in Larnai intend to preserve the legacy.
Estimated deposits of 95.85 million tons fire clay in the region is the stronghold with immense prospect to the villagers and generations to follow.
Supreme court of India’s moratorium over the extensive felling of trees and unscientific mining of mineral resources and local village authority earmarking the natural fire clay reserved add up to the alimony of the indigenous people in retaining the lost touch of terracotta handicraft.
In an endeavor to revive the terracotta handicraft in affiliation with the indigenous Khasi race, a month long training in innovative design was organized by Meghalaya handloom and handicraft Development Corporation in Larnai village in Jantia hills district.
The event backed by Development Commissioner Handicraft sees an enthusiastic participation of Larnai villagers refurbishing the missing touch under the skillful guidance of clay modeling designer expert Peter Suting and sculptor Khrawkupar lanong in Larnai village envisaged to uplift and galvanize the languishing terracotta handicraft in this part of the region.
“We are looking at the sustainability aspect with much smaller terracotta items developed and refine for better market value which will benefit the indigenous people through this handicraft” said Peter Suting. “The task is not easy as the long lost touch might require some time to regain but at such an early stage we are seeing great design already coming up” he added.
Terracotta design as an artifact is elusive and uncommon but the innovative design workshop here in Larnai also underscored economic features which is likely to enhance the skill and identify the indigenous aesthetic touch from the rest of the world in terracotta handicraft.
Mendonlang Pariat, Director of Meghalaya Handloom and Handicraft during the workshop said “I look to the two important Ps in the workshop, one is people and other is product. we are now at the point to realize how best we can utilize the skills of the people which has been pass on from generation to generation.”
“Essentially what we are seeing here is the movement of the hands so let’s try and retain by bringing better finishes and jump level and generate the product which will suit other product that other Khasi staying in other parts of Ri-Khasi will identify the product with the product generated from Larnai”, he added.
More than ten elderly villagers enrolled in the workshop working in three different batches from morning till late night.
Khrawkupar Lanong who teaches the villagers says that “this handicraft is a part of us we have forgotten but we are doing to retain the skills by introducing new design and artifacts which the tourist can pick as a souvenir and take away item which in the process will sustain the indigenous skills, we are already equipped with the skill and what we are doing basically here is showing them the aesthetic point of view so that they can continue making different pottery items and come up with new design and gain from it in both ways and we love to see them sustain and grow further.”
The indigenous lore’s had many tales to tell but the people here in Larnai believe that they acquired the technique from their ancestor which they believed was bestowed upon their ancestor by god. Marora Pyrtuh, a local participant at the workshop expressed her elation being able to learn new things from the month long innovative design workshop here in larnai.
She said “I am happy to have experienced such workshop. We learned many things apart from the basic technique we acquire from our parents.” Endorsing similar view Milda said “we learned this art from our elders who used to do this work which has been passing on from generation to generation. With the help of the government, we believe to move ahead and elevate to another level.”
Natural process of mineral fossilization might have roughly run down to millions of years but the local people here claimed that the wisdom had been passed on to them through oral narration.
Thrialda one of the participant at the workshop said, “we don’t know for how long we have been doing this but we do the pottery when we don’t have much thing to do around; earlier we made pots to cook curry, but now we make pots only to cook putharo and pumaloi.”
“Now through the help of Pariat we are making ordered goods out of clay to be kept in the office in Shillong”, she added.
Apparently, the pottery in remote villages in state and even in Larnai village itself, all cookery utensils have been replaced by metal wares. With the dawn of modernization which has made a livelihood much easier with comparatively more durable and viable industrial manufacture goods, earthen clay pots today are a matter of embarrassment estrange towards traditional etiquettes.
Very few indigenous food recipes are made out of earthen pot in this part of the state otherwise the metal has even replace this in majority of the other Ri-Khasi. Putharo and Jashulia an indigenous Khasi snacks is the only edible items made out of the earthen pots today.
Apart from Larnai village in Jaintia hills another place called Shuji in Garo Hills which is also know to practice the only languishing indigenous terracotta crafting but the later is not without conjecture.
Preservation of rich cultural heritage is important owing to which United nation declaring many ethnic groups and tradition as languishing or on the verge of extinction for which measure has been impose considering the area as heritage sites.
Recent study conducted by UNESCO, enlisted Khasi Language among the 196 languages in india endangered.
The initiative of Meghalaya development of handloom and handicraft might just be a modest step towards thousands mile in saving the indigenous culture from completely being buried while the contemporary kinds exist only to excavate as an antique artifact another few decades from now.