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Here’s How Tripura’s Tribals Make Natai, A Bamboo Spinning Tool Used For Weaving Clothes

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Translated from Kokborok by Manisha Debbarma

Like most indigenous communities of India and the world, the Borok people of Tripura have traditionally woven their own clothes. In a world filled with fast fashion and cheap and low-quality clothes mass-produced in factories, tribals in Tripura still practice the tradition of weaving their own clothes sustainably.

They purchase cotton yarn from the market and weave them into beautiful and vibrant garments for all occasions. Between the purchase of yarn to constructing the end product, however, there are several stages of work that go into the process. One of the stages is to turn the big coil of yarn into a ball. To that effect, the Borok people construct a bamboo winder on which they spread the yarn and wound it into a ball.

This is how the coil of yarn is fitted on the natai

Natai, The Yarn Winder

In Kokborok or the native language of tribals in Tripura, the yarn winder is called “natai”. From time immemorial, the Borok people have been using it to wind balls of yarn. The balls are essential in preparing the weaving loom on which the artist weaves the garments. With this spinning tool, the work of winding the yarn is completed quickly and efficiently.

How ‘Natai’ Is Made

To make a bamboo yarn winder, first of all, one needs a green and strong bamboo from the forest. The bamboo should be polished nicely so that its leaves and stems are removed from the outside. It should then be cut into 29- 30 inches in length.  The next step involves making four holes on the top and bottom of the bamboo, as shown in the picture. These holes can be made using a hot iron.

Making a ‘natai’ requires one long bamboo of about 29 inches, four small sticks, and a length of rope/thread

After cutting the bamboo, another four small and thin bamboo sticks are needed. These sticks should also be polished.  They should be small enough to pass through the holes at the top and bottom of the main bamboo.

Once the sticks are fitted through the holes, a thread is tied in a zigzag manner connecting the sticks. The picture gives a clearer idea of how this is to be done. The thread should be sturdy so that it doesn’t break when the yarn is fitted on it. The last thing that is needed is a small bamboo for supporting the thread-winding tool. This small bamboo is usually stationed inside a pot filled with soil. The bamboo winder is placed on it so that it rotates on the axis of the smaller bamboo. This pot makes it easy to carry the natai around so that the weaver can wind yarn in whichever room they are comfortable in.

A yarn ball is essential in constructing a weaving loom

After making the natai, a coil of yarn is fitted on it, and the weaver makes a yarn ball from it. Making these balls are essential for the weaving process. In addition, yarn balls can be stored properly for future use.

Usually, the yarn winders are made at home only as they are very quick and easy to construct. Tripuri homes, more often than not, plant a bamboo grove in the backyard to ensure that bamboo is available all year round. In the past decade, as many families have moved to the cities, these yarn winders have begun to be sold in the market. In addition, traditional garments have become big business as many people prefer to buy it rather than weaving it at home.

Nowadays, the world is seeing a huge movement for slow fashion, and people want to support local weavers and ethical clothing. Tribals in Tripura have been practising slow fashion for generations, using local and sustainable practices for making their clothes. If you are a supporter of the slow fashion movement, you should consider buying from tribal artisans and weavers in Tripura.

Note: This process of making a bamboo yarn winder has been demonstrated to us by Mr Amrit Debbarma who is from Wakhiraisordar Para, Khumulwng, Tripura West.

This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.

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