Chin Textiles

Chin Skirt

Chin Skirt

The Chins are found mainly in western part of Burma (the Chin State). They also live in nearby Indian states of Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur and Assam.

The Chin people are of Tibeto-Burman groups and they most likely came to Burma, especially the Chindwin valley, in the late 9-10 century AD. Most Chin people moved westward and they probably settled in the present Chin State around 1300-1400 AD.

For a newlywed Chin woman it is customary to weave a large blanket in which she and her husband will be wrapped upon their deaths. When one partner dies, the blanket is cut in two, with one half used to cover the body and the other half stored away until the second partner passes.

Despite commonalities of language and culture, the various Chin groups are broadly dispersed over adjacent hills of three countries, speak languages many of which are mutually unintelligible, and have textile traditions that vary widely.

Chin Skirt

Chin Skirt

Textiles signal the status of the wearer in several ways, playing their most dramatic role in the core Chin effort to achieve merit in this life and the next. Chin peoples have traditionally strived to distinguish themselves from their peers through accomplishments in hunting, war, wealth accumulation and feast giving. The textiles made and worn by the Chin announce those accomplishments through specific patterns reserved for the meritorious.

Many Chin textiles also denote local subgroups and serve as emblems of community membership. Most are sex-specific and some are appropriate only for people of a certain age, marital status, high-status clan or religious function.

Chin oral history records waves of subsequent migration, many of them out of the northern Chin Hills, with migrating groups pressuring earlier migrants to move once more. As groups moved, they took weaving styles with them or acquired new styles from their new neighbours. One can trace some of these migrations by comparing textiles from the departure point and destination. Such comparison can also reveal the effect of imported materials, particularly silk, from non-Chin, lowland cultures. Chin weavers use a simple backstrap loom in which the warp is circular and continuous.

Chin Loincloth

Chin Loincloth

The earliest descriptions of Chin textiles date from 1800, whereas the oldest known Chin textiles were acquired in 1855. Since then, many changes have occurred in material and design. Two broad trends can be discerned. Over time, the structure of Chin textiles has become simplified, apparently as weavers chose easier ways to achieve the intended result. Simultaneously, the decoration of Chin textiles has tended to become more elaborate, covering a greater portion of the surface area and employing novel yarns and colours.

Textiles passed down the family — memories of weddings and other important events — are considered treasured possessions but may be sold by families during difficult financial times.

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