Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tsüngkotepsü (The Ao Naga Shawl)

   Ao Nagas are one of the indigenious tribes of Nagaland, whose settlements are spread across the Mokokchung district in northeastern part of Nagaland state bordering Assam.
Tradition says that the Aos sprung up from Longtrok, literally meaning six stones. Legends tell that the descendents of Longtrok founded the Chungliyimiti village where they settled and stayed for a considerable period of time. In due course of time, the descendents of Longtrok crossed the Dikhu River through a cane bridge (Arr apu in Ao language) leaving other people behind. These people (the Aos) who went ahead leaving others behind came to be known as ‘Aor’ or ‘Ao’; the word in Ao dialect literally means ‘going’ or ‘gone’.
The Ao Nagas have a rich tradition and culture. Their dresses involve intricate designs which require exceptional craftsmanship; the designs in the clothing are the main characteristic of distinguishing prominent clansmen from others, especially with regard to status in the society or village. The prominent people in the society or village were the Nokinketers or warriors or frontrunners, who enjoyed special status in the society; their status was highlighted by the dresses they wore.

The Ao Naga warrior shawl is called Mangkotepsu. This shawl besides fulfilling the basic needs of clothing is highly revered by the people. This shawl can be worn only by the men folk alone. In the past a man had to earn the right to wear this shawl by taking human heads in the battlefield or through acts of bravery and by offering feasts of merit as proof of his wealth. Anyone wearing without fulfilling these credentials was taken to task by the village council and had to pay heavy penalties for violating the revered code.
    It is said that women of Chungliyimiti village used to design this shawl as a gesture to encourage their men to ward off repeated attacks by warning neighbouring tribes on the village.

Though the Tsüngkoteptsü looks like a simple shawl, yet every design or color imprinted on this shawl has a deep meaning and significance.
The white strip in the middle symbolizes courage and bravery. The pictures of the sun, the moon and the stars on the shawl signify the resulting fame of warriors who wear the shawl. The animals depicted in the strip resemble the physical power and the valour of men. The hornbill is a revered bird whose feathers are used for decorative purpose in ceremonial costumes. The image of Mithun (buffalo like animals) indicates the wealth of the wearer because only the rich people could rear these animals. Other symbols are depiction of weapons and shields used by Ao men during warfare.
Thus, this shawl which may look like an ordinary cloth is more than just a clothing to be worn by anyone. Though, the significance might not have a deep meaning for the younger generation (who knows many might not know what the images on the shawl signify), yet this shawl is a part of our culture, our history and our identity. If we are to be called as a people with a proud culture and deep rooted traditions, if we are to say that we are Ao people with a history; then we should take this Tsüngkoteptsü with a little more respect and every time we wear it – we should understand that we are wearing our history with us.  

1 comment:

  1. Good job in explaining the significance of the shawl. Hope the younger generation take their time out to learn and understand the value of it.