Shakmacha Nongmaithem

Fairly known for its culture and material heritage, the state of Manipur situated in the far north-eastern corner of India is a place of delight for the Ethnographers and Anthropologists around the world. The ethnic-plurality of people living across the hill and valley topography of this Sub-Himalayan region provide a mosaic of culture that attracts ethnographers and museum professionals to conduct their ethnographic & material cultural study.

The present article is based on the museum outreach programme conducted for documentation of traditional head gear and head dress of the people of Manipur. The programme was organised in collaboration with local museums where more than 70 artists from different tribal and folk communities were invited to demonstrate the preparation of traditional head gears and head wears. An attempt has been made here to describe the socio-cultural significance and functional utilities of traditional head wears among different tribes and communities in Manipur. 

From a simple piece of woven cloth of turban to a delicate and majestic form of head gears, every ethnic community in Manipur adorn head wears not necessarily on every day life but on important social occasions and functions. These wears are mostly connected with festivals and dances. Moreover, there are several head gears which are significantly worn by an individual as a mark of social positions and status. With the passage of time many of the tribal head wears now developed as identity markers where shape, colour, and designs are preferably used to express their ethnic identity. The choice of headgear, type and fashion of wearing also differentiates the individual tribe from others. As for instance, the Kuki-chin tribes of the wouth prefer to wear woven cloth by wrapping around the head like a head-band while the Nagas and other tribes of the north uses elaborately designed head gears prepared with coloured threads on bamboo framework. There are head gears exclusively meant to be worn by the warriors as a reward of his bravery and successful warfare and hunting expedition. Head gears for Chief and Kings exhibit more elaborate and profuse works and details of ornamentation. 

Headgear, therefore, play a significant role in the socio-cultural lives of the community. With the passage of time there has been a changes in cultural utilities, patterns and designs of head wears but the philosophical indemnity and ideological belief of the use of traditional head wears still lives with the people of this region.

Headgears of Thangal tribe, Male

Left: Common man's head gear; Right: Warriors head gear

Chief's head gear
(Pi-Pangrun/ Ningthou Luhup)

Among the Thangal tribe, headgear is known as Pangrun. They have three different forms of head gears for male. They are 1) common man's head gear which are worn by common people at the time of dance and festival. 2) Warrior's head gear which were meant only for the warrior. No other person was entitle to wear this kind of head wear in the olden days. The head gear given to a warrior for his successful head hunting expedition, warfare and feuds becomes an insignia of his pride personal adornment and it was an exception for heroic deeds of the warriors. 3) Chief's head gear appears with more elaborate forms spikes arrangements on the crowns. It also added with symbolic projections of spear that meant for a prowess and hierarchy beyond which no other person can claim his position. 
The head gear is prepared with bamboo splits, woollen threads, and colours. Bamboo rings of two sizes which are nearly similar in circumference is framed by measuring the size of head of person. Smaller ring of bamboo is placed inside the bigger one and it is tied with threads. Spikes shaped with different sizes are vertically arranged by inserting them in between these two rings to the front side. These arrangements are beautifully embellished with colourful thread work having elaborate meanings of each. Arrangement of spikes and woven designs of the threads distinguishes each of these head gears from one another. Arrangement of spikes-like projection is called Rang and rings prepared for the crown is called Rangtou in Thangal language. 

Note: the author will come up with head gears of Maram tribe in continuation of this article. 

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