Women of Meghalaya are telling...
Meghalaya - I heard this word for the first time in August 2015, when a German student from Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, called me and asked me if I was interested in eri silk fabrics. She were currently completing her Bachelor's thesis on "Eri silk and the opportunities for marketing in Europe". This is how I became aware of Meghalaya, and I have learned to know and love the country and its people.
Who lives there?
Meghalaya is a small state in the north east of India, far from Bollywood and completely different the usual imagination of India. The landscape is a lovely mix of La Palma and Tuscany with many clear waters. The people shake hand to welcome and say goodbye, and at least on Sunday all the churches, both Catholic and Protestant, are filled to the last place.
And Meghalaya offers a further special feature: people live in a matrilineal culture! There are only a few groups on the planet where this particular form of society is found. Matrilinear means: The woman is the head of the family. It provides for all members, the house and farm belongs to her and she manages the money and the property of the family. This function, in the tribal language Khasi, it is called "Kaddu", is always given by the mother to the youngest daughter. She lives the longest with the mother and has learned most from her to prepare for this task. When a man marries, he goes to his wife's house. When he is separated, he has to move out again without having claims on the family's property.
The situation now
Meghalaya means "Home of the Clouds". Clouds are still very many, but the climate has changed slowly and in the meantime clearly visible! Global climate change causes fewer rainfall in the north-east of India and rising temperatures. Many sectors of agriculture unfortunately under the drought, especially rice farming and fish farming. The vegetation changes and many families can no longer provide for themselves. Only silk rearing - which has always existed since centuries for the production of traditional clothing and to meet protein requirements in the diet - is not affected. The feed for the silkworms grows wild, the growth is hardly precipitation-dependent, and higher temperatures are helpful in the eri silk rearing cultivation.
The craftsmanship and experience in the production of textiles from Eri silk are widespread. The women of the Khasi and Garo breed at the home the Eri silk worms, spin yarn from the empty cocoons, dye it and weave it to scarves and fabric. Spinning is done by the drop spindle, woven traditionally by the floor loom, but also casually by flying shuttle looms. Building on the old traditional techniques, the quality and quantity of yarns and fabrics can be increased by means of a better working tool. Through the introduction of the hand spinning wheel and the Flying8 loom, the women are able to produce the textiles as before in home work. We help them create products that are qualitatively and commercially available for sale on the European market. Silk is one of the most valuable fibers, ideally skin-compatible and is rightly called the "Queen of Natural Fibers".
In cooperation with GIZ (Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit), we have put together five work packages. We want to replace the very time-consuming spinning with the drop spindle by spinning with the foot-operated hand spinning wheel. In order to overcome the bottleneck "yarn production", we support a young start-up in the development of machine-spun yarn. We want women to use a greater variety of indigenous dyestuffs for dyeing the yarn, to expand their color palette, and to make the dyeings reproducible; through training in the construction and handling of a loom designed especially for developing countries. The Flying8 loom is made only of wood and can be built by every woman herself. It allows stress-free work and fits in every small workshop. It allows women to produce all kinds of fabrics in better quality. And finally, the fabrics should be designed to simply cut and healthy clothes for women, men and babies.
Meghalaya offers ideal conditions for the construction of organic silk rearing. All processing steps in the textile chain can be sustained socially acceptable and fair in the state, so that the added value benefits the people on the spot. We achieve an environmentally friendly and durable textile production under ecologically harmless conditions. We avoid impoverishment through lack of income opportunities for the rural population and the migration to the cities. We preserve traditional craftsmanship and preserve a unique culture before its decay.
It is a great pleasure for me, to work together with the GIZ staff in Shillong, Andreas Möller, from Hamburg, the plant colour expert Dick Kaiser, Catherine Allié from the label WE ARE KAL in Leipzig and the many dear people of Meghalaya.
What you can do
I ask you to support our initiative and help the women in Meghalaya to ensure their livelihood through silk rearing and textile production. As a help to self help you can
Thank you very much!