A double tragedy that struck Maisnam Lalini in her late 30s had compelled her to take solace in her family’s legacy of weaving and embroidering Saphee Lanphee, a traditional handwoven textile fabric embroidered with motifs. It is used as a shawl by both men and womenfolk in Manipur.
Now, in her late 60s, Maisnam Lalini was nominated for a national award by the Textiles Ministry for working towards preservation and promotion of endangered handicraft for the year 2019.
Embroidered with 10 motifs depicting horse, elephant, sun, moon, stars, spear, throne, buffalo’s horn, peacock and fish with differing meanings, ‘Saphee Lanphee’ has its historical and cultural significance since it was presented especially as a gallantry award in the olden days.
‘Saphee Lanphee’ is also an essential customary item worn during traditional events such as marriages and funerals by different communities.
Lalini was married to Ningombam Romi of Singjamei in 1991. However, a double tragedy struck her as her husband passed away in 1993 and she lost her infant boy the same year. She was left alone with a daughter and now lives at her maternal place at Wangkhei Yonglan Leirak in Imphal East.
"It was fate, it seems. I took solace in producing Saphee Lanphee, which I learned from my mother and grandmother as a child after the tragedy," Lalini said while speaking exclusively to the Imphal Free Press.
Ever since, she has been working to preserve and promote the traditional knowledge - Shaphee Lanphee craft with dedication for years.
Lalini and her late younger sister Anita, followed the footsteps of their mother and learnt the skill of weaving and embroidering of Shaphee Lanphee.
Presently, she is passing on her knowledge and skills to women trainees who wish to keep alive the dying art in this modern age.
Under her guidance, about 15 women trainees are learning the art of making Saphee Lanphee; the Saphee Lanphee and other handloom products made with the support of local artisans and weavers are being sold to the market at wholesale rate.
As told by Lalini, the Saphee Lanphee is slowly losing its significance in the modern age as many are not aware and its demand has fallen.
Nevertheless, the craft has enabled her to provide financial support for her daughter to pursue MBBS course and become a doctor.
Interestingly, she told the Imphal Free Press that even after becoming a doctor, her daughter joins her in weaving producing the Saphee Lanphee and other fabrics in her spare time.
Other handloom items such as bedsheets, bags, waistcoats among others with simplified patterns and motifs of the Saphee Lanphee had popularised the craft, she stated.
'Loiyumba Shinyen', a written constitution during King Loiyumba, which recorded the division of labour on the basis of surnames, had allocated the weaving of Saphee Lanphee to Khoisnam, to which Lalini's grandmother belonged.
After women of Khoisnam surname married to other surnames, the craft spread to different areas of the state. However, not many are practising the weaving and embroidering of the Saphee Lanphee and machines are slowly taking over hand-woven items.
Raising concern that the Saphee Lanphee may be pushed to slowly fade away in the waves of modernity, she expressed the desire to train young women if the government is willing to organise skill training courses.
"I can provide the training for free. If only the government could provide stipend to draw the interest of the trainees, I'm willing to provide the training for free," she said.
Saying that traditional weavers are now struggling with receding demand for the product amid the rising price for yarn, she drew attention of the government to make yarn available to the local weavers on loan basis so that the same can be repaid after selling the products.