The Unsung Craftsman of Diezephe

ISSUE NO.1 | The Nagas | July 2017

The Unsung Craftsman of Diezephe

Diezephe, 25.8014° N, 93.6934° E

Nagaland, India

 
 

Remy is a craftsman in the village of Diezephe, far away from the cacophony of Dimapur. He tells us the story of the rise of prominence of the collective talent of this village: handicrafts. He shares with us how he goes about his business life and what more is needed to keep this art alive.

We passed by an Assam Rifles camp area. The driver said the worst of the road was yet to come. 5 minutes and it was there. The government refuses to develop the roads because the NSCN-IM rebels have their stronghold in deeper, rural parts beyond the city of Dimapur. The Indian government had recently entered into a ceasefire agreement with this group of rebels, the strongest among all armed rebel groups in Nagaland and Manipur. Our acquaintances in Dimapur warned us of the possibility of things going out of control as loots were not a surprising thing to happen in rebel-dominated regions of Nagaland. It was not a big vehicle. Its small wheels couldn’t handle the unevenness of the road and the outcome of travelling on this terrible road was felt in the spine and the neck. But the miles away from the city offered more pleasure to the eye than the body. Straw huts lay scattered across vast farmlands bordered by hills bearing forests on their skins, forbidden for humans like ourselves. The Bangladeshi refugees settled in this area told us to leave before dark. We searched for the remote village of Diezephe to document the daily life of Remy, the unsung craftsman.

 

Remy is a Chakhesang. Craftsmanship was a family business and Remy could never leave it and go to better parts of the state. He owns an old wood-carving machine which is the only machine in his home. “Not many people come to ask about us these days. But it is fortunate that the communities concerned with Naga handicrafts talk good about Diezephe. So I could never leave this village and go. I can never think of leaving Diezephe to work elsewhere. Almost every home here is a home of an artist and they give me ideas. I am a young generation craftsman. I believe I can take this forward.” said Remy.

 

Craftsmanship is the culture of Diezephe. The Tenyimei community was the primary inhabitants of Diezephe. Over the years, these people gained fame and recognition for their remarkable craftsmanship such as bamboo and cane work, deft woodcarving, and other styles of handicraft. Then came people from other tribes to learn and do business out of this rare art. Now the Nagaland Handloom and Handicrafts Development Corporation has extended its support to keeping this art alive by giving them raw materials, funds and clients. A decrepit gallery stands at the entrance of this village that they call the “showroom”. Attached to every house here is a workplace for craftsmen. Every home bears a certain number of logs, the raw material for their products.

 

Remy’s work is more like a habit now. He prepared a wooden bowl in front of us in 10 minutes. With his cousin taking care of the bulk orders he gets from clients from Bhutan, China and other parts of India, Remy is content with what he does for his living. “It is a fact that I am the fastest craftsman here.” he claims with pride, but criticizing the lack of resources for the artists in Diezephe, he says “But we need better machines now. Orders are more in number these days since the craftsmen of Diezephe are very particular about their work, and thus the need for better machines come. It is a collective need.”

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