Manipur is a state of north east India also known as: “Jewel of India”. From the very first moment I came here, I have been fascinated by the place. A mix cultures of India and south-east Asia, location which makes the state a natural “Gateway” to Southeast Asia (AH1 – Asian Highway 1 runs through the state). In photo-projects on this blog we would want to bring you closer to places, people and other interesting things, especially from this region. Discover with us this still-forgotten corner of the World.
One of the ethnic group living in Manipur are Kukis
From this community is my wife – Cheng. Kukis are Tibeto-Burman hill tribe, who live in the northeast India (mostly in Manipur and Mizoram), as well in some parts of Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh. The dominant ones of the group are Christian Baptists even though Judaism practitioners can also be found.
Idea and preparation
Inspired by smiles and great willingness to pose for photos with the youngest family members, we decided to transform these kids’ energy into a photographic project. As the main theme is Kuki’s traditional ethnic clothes. We chose three different locations for the pictures near our town. It took us about a week to get necessary props. Some are not often found anymore but family or friends had some of the missing elements. We held the session in three different weekends in our spare time, and the total time from the idea to finalization was less than a month.
A few words about technical details
The photographs were taken with a Sony A6300 mirrorless camera with Sony 35 mm f / 1.8 fixed focal length lens (SEL35F18). We worked only with natural lighting, in some cases additionally bouncing the light with the silver photographic blend. Basic color correction of RAW files were done using Capture One 10 software.
Along with the pictures, we also prepared descriptions of individual pieces of clothing and accessories. You will also get to know their original Thadou-Kuki names.
The characteristic hair decoration of women and men are feathers called tuhpah, which is the reason for the appeal in the article’s title to American Indians. This element of dress was used in the past (in times before Christianity) during ceremonies and rituals. Traditionally, these feathers come from the hornbill (vakol) or the second species, whose name we only know in the language of Thadou-Kuki: vameisao. Original decorative feathers are currently difficult to found – largely and fortunately this is due to the protection of these birds species. In our session, we improvised this prop with much easier to get turkey feathers.
Khichong, Khivomvui or Khimulop
They are necklaces with beads in red and blue. This is the most valuable element of the outfit, but also less and less frequently found because no new ones are made. We tried to learn more on this subject from the older generation, but unfortunately we didn’t manage to get any sure information about the material and the method of their production. Necklaces are passed down from one generation to the next.
Is originally a braid made around the head but since the hair of the girls were not long enough, we made the braids with black threads.
The outfit consists mainly of several types of shawls. Depending on the complexity of the designs and sizes, the production of one piece takes from several days to weeks. In the photographs you can see such shawls as:
- Saipikhup – thicker and larger shawls, serving as blankets and outerwear specially in winter. These days, it is primarily one of the universal gifts among Kuki community.
- Khamtang – worn by women like a dress, often in combination with a white smaller pon mong vom.
- Pon mong vom – white women’s shawl tied under the arms.
- Thangnang – black shawl on the shoulder.
- Kaichong – men’s shawl that creates pants when worn.
- Lu kop or Del kop – has many useful purposes – can be worn on head, especially for protection from heat, as a carry bag when needed to carry any thing from the forest, as a signal flag during emergencies, etc.
In addition, in few photos you will see Aapu in a vest in the traditional Kuki pattern.
As props we also used instruments:
- Khong – double-sided leather drum.
- Dah – a gong made of brass.
- Gosem – a wind instrument made of bamboo and dried calabash (bottle-gourd) fruit.
The jewelry elements visible in the photographs are:
- Chao – spiral bracelets on the forearms.
- Hah – lead hoops above elbows.
- Bilkam – silver earrings.
In addition, as a prop we used a basket made of bamboo which is very popular in Asia. In a local language, it is called longkai. The basket is worn on the back with the band on the forehead. For this reason, it may seem that the entire weight rests on the head, but contrary to appearances, it comfortably spreads on the back.
If you have any additional questions or feedbacks, share them in the comments below.
Thank you for your attention 🙂
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