Translated from Kokborok by Manisha Debbarma
Every tribal community has a unique and rich culture, and clothing is an important part of this culture. Tripura, with its 19 tribal communities, sees a variety of weaving practices, with colourful clothes hand-woven with intricate designs and patterns on them. One of the garments worn by tribal women in Tripura is called‘Risa.’
A risa is a long, embroidered, handwoven garment worn by the women of Tripura. It is usually five feet in length and is wrapped around the upper body. It is beautifully embroidered with unique patterns and comes in vibrant colours. Some of the designs are called ‘kwchak pali,’ ‘kosom pali’, ‘takhumtwi’, ‘khamjang’ etc. These days, the risa is not just a piece of garment but has become emblematic of the Borok people’s culture. It is gifted to distinguished visitors at every function as a sign of welcome and respect.
One of the earliest indigenous rituals involving the risa is called Risa Sormani. According to this ritual, a risa is gifted to the girl child when she reaches puberty. Her first risa marks her transition from a girl to becoming a woman. Her family, relatives, and neighbours gather together on this day to worship an indigenous deity called “Lampra”. They offer prayers for her good health and well-being. The function is accompanied by feasting and music.
To weave a risa, weavers require cotton yarn in different colours, especially in the colour red, which is most commonly used. The other tools required are called soro, nal waphi, rwsami, bangkho, wasakwnwi, sinji, and sobam (They are either made of bamboo or wood as shown in the picture). Once the yarn is strung, the risa is woven. It takes anywhere from 5-15 days to make a risa depending on the design.
A handwoven risa costs around Rs. 1000 to Rs. 1500 in the market. The prices can go up depending on the intricacies of the embroidery.
A risa has many uses among the indigenous communities. Apart from being used as a garment by women, a risa is used during Goria puja. The priest ties paddy grains, cotton ball, durba grass, coin, flowers, and puffed rice on one end of the risa and other end is tied on the Garia deity signified by a bamboo pole.
Men use risa as a turban or scarf during festivals and weddings. If they are wearing a dhoti, they tie a risa tightly around their waist like a belt. Married women and mothers use the risa to hold the baby on their hips or backs. It is a safe way to carry a baby when the mother is doing household work.
Many women in villages weave risas for themselves as well as for sale, as it is an additional source of income. Every community has its own preference for colours. The Reang community usually weave risa primarily in black yarns, whereas the Debbarma community uses red yarns. Other colours are mixed in small quantities to give it a pattern.
These beautiful and signature patterns make it an enticing purchase for anyone visiting Tripura. We seldom see people weaving their own clothes, and purchasing these fabrics and garments is a great way to support the women who spend months making them. If you visit Tripura, I hope you consider supporting tribal households by purchasing hand-woven fabrics and clothing.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.