Helping women realise the power of their craft heritage
Across the diverse tribes of the North East weaving has been the reserve of women, a skill passed down from mothers, grandmothers and aunts. Buon works with a cluster of Bodo and Rabha villages in the Nameri region of Assam.
When we started, most women here had woven only for themselves and their families. The few who had tried to make a living of it found the distance to the closest weekly market a deterrent.
Often, a trader would come along, offering yarn in exchange for half the woven fabric — the weavers were “free to sell the other half.” Called the “adhi system”, the weaver would be left with all the labour, half the fabric and no guaranteed income. There was a need to uproot this incredibly unfair system.
It has taken years to evolve an equitable system, building not just craft but livelihood skills.
Buon was imagined in the wane of 2017 — we asked a few weavers if they would be open to weaving sarees (not traditional in these parts) — and surprisingly it was the older women who were the most enthusiastic. We would be responsible for everything the weaver needed to weave, from raw material and design to finding a market that valued the work— all she had to do was weave in her own time.
By the end of 2019, we had a small collection ready to go and in a few months the pandemic hit. We learnt how to swim in the deep end. Our weavers’ looms clicked away in their remote villages. When it was safe, we used the time to develop vegetable dyeing and spinning skills through workshops. During an eye camp, we realised that handspinning could be a way to involve senior women who now found weaving hard on their bodies.
While we source our handspun yarn from a cooperative society from a different part of Assam, our senior’s programme might soon be making enough for all our weavers.
It’s a work in progress, in more ways than one. Thank you for supporting our journey.