The story of Manipur’s black pottery from Longpi.
A unique form of pottery, made from a mix of ground black serpentine stone and special brown clay found only in Longpi in Ukhrul district in Manipur, is gaining popularity in different parts of India and across the globe. This can be attributed to its rustic appeal, utility as a cooking pot with inherent non-stick quality, ideal for steaming and making stews or as a serving dish, vast range of designs, but most of all, because it comes from indigenous people, the Tangkhuls.
The ancient art from Longpi Kajui village and Longpi Khullen, 31 km from Ukhrul district headquarters on NH 150, is now becoming the source of urban merchandise on sale and display in many of the handicrafts, and art and culture exhibitions organised across the country.
The credit largely goes to Machihan Sasa, from Longpi, who founded the Sasa Hampai Pottery-Training-Cum-Production Centre. He has been making these black- stone pottery since his childhood after learning the art from his father and selling it through different distribution outlets.
Many young aspirants, and his son Mathew Sasa, have benefitted from his mentoring and many of them have opened their own small- scale industry initiatives.
While taking us on a tour in his production center, showing the many workshops within the compound and explaining the process involved in making these unique black pots, Machihan Sasa shared why pottery-making can help in a scenario like the one in Manipur, infected with serious unemployment and frustration among young people and families.
“Everyone should not be aspiring for government services and entrepreneurship like pottery -making can make people economically sound and even place them in a position to be giving jobs to others.”
Though he has had his own struggles in sustaining and promoting the black pottery, his dedication and resolve to not let the challenges bog him down, are awe-inspiring, for which he was awarded the National Awards Certificate in 1988 and Shilp Awards in 2008 by Ministry of Textiles, Government of India, for his contribution towards art and craft.
The ground serpentine stone and special clay are mixed, pots manually shaped, polished, sun-dried, and baked over a bonfire. This process takes a total of 6-10 days.
The champion comes from a place where the economy is driven largely by agriculture, selling forest products like honey, bamboo, cane, timber, and more, in the Ukhrul Bazar and Yangangpokpi Bazar. This is where the local population sell away their products, in addition to handloom and handicraft, livestock, poultry, and sericulture, but face the barrier imposed due to weak communication linkages since the days of tribal chiefs. Also, the Imphal-Ukhrul road, 78 km in length, remains the only connecting road in Ukhrul.
In a region where the major challenges to sustain business are marketing and distribution owing to isolation, poor quality roads or a total absence of connecting roads and lack of infrastructure, here is a man who has never given up on the dream of building a larger training center, a guest house to host the foreign and domestic tourists who come to visit him every year, and Longpi Pottery, to become a hallmark of Manipur’s tribal heritage.
The writer is an award-winning rural reporter for print and radio platforms.