“By promoting our textiles removed from such meanings, contexts, usages, and significance you are actually displaying blatant ignorance of the same, and in fact, committing the serious act of cultural appropriation”, said Tangkhul Shanao Long.
TFM Ukhrul Correspondent
In response to a recent event in which designer Robert Naorem showcased cultural artefacts of the Tangkhul Nagas in an event in Dubai, Dusit Thani on October 7, 2021, the Tangkhul Shanao Long (Tangkhul Women’s League), the apex body of Tangkhul women and custodian of Tangkhul traditional attires has written a letter to the designer. Evidently peeved, the issue centres around the “tricky nuances of what is cultural appropriation as opposed to appreciation”.
President of Tangkhul Shanao Long (TSL), P Veronica Zingkhai and Convenor of TSL Shanvai Chonvai Committee (Tangkhul Traditional Attires Committee), Ningshimyo Pearl A Shimray wrote a letter to designer Robert Naorem. The letter reads “It has come to our notice that you have been using motifs, designs, textiles, and cultural artefacts that belong to the Tangkhul Naga community in your shows. While we appreciate the fact that you are trying to be inclusive, there is serious ethical and moral oversight involved that fringes on inviting legal scrutiny and liability”.
The letter said that “as a designer, you are clearly aware of the issue of cultural appropriation; in fact, you yourself have spoken on the issue. You clearly understand that for certain communities, especially the tribal communities in Manipur, cultural artefacts such as textiles, motifs, ornaments, clothes, carvings, and monoliths have specific meanings, contexts, usages, and significance in their worldview. By promoting our textiles removed from such meanings, contexts, usages, and significance you are actually displaying blatant ignorance of the same, and in fact committing the serious act of cultural appropriation”.
The TSL asserted that the designer “must be clearly aware that to promote the culture of others, there are ethical ways to do it respectfully”. “We are compelled to let you know that the first step in this regard is to acknowledge the community to whom such culture belongs; the second is to take permission from the community”, said the letter.
“We would like to remind you that our cultural artefacts are a reflection of our collective identity and history. By using our cultural artefacts in the manner you have done, you are insulting our identity and history. In the name of promoting our culture, you are actually taking away its value.
“We are giving you the benefit of doubt this time, however, should you use our cultural artefacts in the future without our permission, and without clear acknowledgement, we will pursue whatever legal avenues are available to us,” said TSL.
The attire being used by designer Robert Naorem at his show in Dubai was “Seichang Kashan” (wrap around for women). Since time immemorial, Seichang Kashan is worn by women from Tangkhul community. In the olden days, it was worn by the wife or eldest daughter of the Chief of clan. Today, it is worn by every Tangkhul woman, often worn as part of the bridal costume.