By Meda Marwein
The city is adorned with fairy lights and red bright stars to welcome the Christmas season. Throngs of people congregate at market places namely Iewduh and Police Bazar to bargain with shopkeepers as they prepare for the big celebration. A few blocks away from the busy Police Bazar sits a rather quaint and sombre lake popularly known as Ward’s Lake which has been part and parcel of every Shillongite’s life since time immemorial. As winter hastens, it prepares itself for a series of celebratory occasions that are well loved and remembered by city folks. This week, the lake, along with its greenery, is decorated in local arts and crafts as it currently hosts the third edition of Winter Tales, a festival that celebrates all things local with an eco-friendly perspective.
The festival is a three-day event which started on December 19 and which will end on December 21. Its main focus is to promote local unique talents and entrepreneurs through their stories in the form of food, art, craft and music. Dak_ti Crafts, founded by Rida Gatphoh and Peter Marbaniang, has curated the whole event with one thing in mind: to promote indigenous heritage and culture.
True to their motto of story-telling, Dak_ti Crafts, upholds artisans and their craft as the main storytellers of the occasion where crafts of different calibre, like pottery making from the dying Siju pottery art (which originated from a village called Siju, in South Garo Hills). Right from Tangmang, Pynursla to Pahambir, Ri Bhoi, stories are carefully woven in forms of bamboo lamps, baskets and miniature birds. In the craft hub section, amidst a tall tree decorated with bamboo lamps and bamboo miniature birds and butterflies, sits a group of grey-haired artisans with their young apprentices as they demonstrate to the visitors the different bamboo arts craft pertaining to the region.
Suk who hails from Jaintia Hills, sits on a bench while he weaves a bamboo bag. Despite having encountered several hardships, like losing the mobility of his legs, he does not fail to put on a heart melting smile as he tells visitors about his beloved craft all the way from Jaintia Hills.
“I started crafting in ’97, my first being a ruh-wiang (fish trap made of bamboo). I would go on to make other objects that I needed at home. One day I attended a workshop and showcased my skills, that was when someone said that my work was different from everyone. Perhaps, they recognised my work and after numerous training programmes my craft got recognised by people,” he gleefully smiled.
“With the government’s help I was able to get my own training centre, it was there that I was able to train a good number of married women but I would always tell them that they should put their family first, when they’re needed and think about training later. But it would be nice if they’d continue what they’ve learned,” he added.
Rida Gatphoh, tells The Meghalayan that meeting bah Suk and encountering his craft was a blessing. “He could have still been a farmer, you know,” she says, “but bamboo craft became his calling.”
A few metres away from bah Suk sits kong Dameris Khongwir in her handmade bamboo carpet. Quiet and engrossed in her work, she dexterously weaves a small basket with her nimble hands.
“I have a story to tell too,” she says, “we never really paid heed to our weaving art while we were kids. We used to sit around together as a family and only knew how to weave carpets. I used to think that farming was the only livelihood for us. We could have suffered with the rounds of bad crops but when Rida came and taught us a few things or two on how to hone our skills and preserve the tradition, life took a different turn. Our entire village of Tangmang has now become a village of bamboo weavers,” she smiles.
Rani Maring from Pahambir has been a regular at Winter Tales. He brought with him his crew, both young and old, to demonstrate his bamboo craft. Sitting on a mura (Khasi stool), Rani was all fired up to teach The Meghalayan a simple bamboo craft, a miniature bird. With enough instructions and a few mistakes here and there, the miniature bird took form. Rani has done this for years and his work has gained Pahambir a place as one of the six arts and crafts villages of Meghalaya. A number of young children gather around him to learn the old age skills of making bamboo crafts and as the day unfolds, the place is bound to be filled with curious visitors ready to learn and immerse themselves in the art.
Come to think of it, Winter Tales is rather an apt name for the three-day end-of-the-year event that Shillongites have been waiting for in these three years. It brings to the forefront stories from all spaces, especially rural spaces that we rarely touch on or get a glimpse of. Whether through art, craft, food or music, the beloved lake, echoes tales from all strata of human existence that inhabit these Meghalayan hills telling us that culture lives on even at the sight of modernity.