Thetta: Weaving in a Handloom

A woman weaving in a traditional bamboo loom © Susi Dunsmore

Handloom weaving is a tradition that has been practiced by the Rai and Limbu ethnic groups in the Eastern hills of Nepal for generations. The skill and knowledge of this craft have been passed down through the ages, with weaving being regarded as sacred due to its mysterious origins. The intricate designs created through handloom weaving are inspired by nature’s patterns and motifs, connecting people to their ancestors and representing one of Nepal’s oldest craftsmanship and heritage.

As a member of the Rai community of weavers, I have witnessed firsthand the beauty and richness of handloom weaving. In my village of the Dhankuta district, there is only one woman who weaves beautiful diamond-shaped patterns with brightly colored yarn on a traditional bamboo handloom, known as thetta. This woman is a master weaver who learned the skill from her mother and has been weaving into her late 60s, with a passion for teaching and handing over the skill to others. The Santang bhutta is the pattern she loves to weave, which is a significant part of Rai culture. It comes from Santang village in the district and is a beautiful representation of the community’s heritage. The Sangtang khasto, a shawl worn during special occasions like weddings and cultural celebrations, is an essential piece of clothing in Rai and Limbu communities. However, the challenge lies in encouraging young girls to take up weaving as a hobby, as they prefer other pastimes.

A young girl wearing Santang shawl @ Susi Dunsmore

Despite the world’s focus on digital concerns and sustainable issues, the struggles of this one woman to preserve a dying skill in our community are significant. Weaving is a fascinating process, with white yarn filling the warp and other colors being inlaid in the weft to create the intricate patterns. This woman recalls how she used to help her mother and her friends weave and learned the technique slowly. However, she notes that the times are changing, and the cycle of generations passing on their skills is breaking. She worries that the skill is dying, and the ability to be creative and take pride in making things with one’s hands is being lost.

To revive weaving in the village, it needs to evolve by joining forces with designers who can update the skills, create new designs, and bring new life to the craft, as is being done in other countries. The decline in weaving interests may be due to the lack of updated skills or a shift in lifestyle choices among the younger generation. Nonetheless, weaving is an essential part of cultural heritage that needs to be preserved for future generations.

Saw patterned Sangtang woven by a weaver of my village @ Maya Rai

In conclusion, the tradition of handloom weaving is an integral part of cultural heritage, with intricate designs inspired by nature and passed down through generations. While it faces challenges in the modern world, there are efforts to revive and update the skill, so it continues to thrive and be appreciated for generations to come. It is important to recognize the value of traditional crafts like weaving and the connection they provide to our past and cultural identity.