Nagas are versatile artisans and they leave an impression of ethnicity on most of their objects of everyday usage. The sheer impulse of the Nagas to decorate even their deadly weapons is evident from their daos and spears. Their bamboo drinking pots are embossed beautifully with various cultural motifs. The wood carving on massive doorways and the village gates as well as on log drums are still on display.
The dress materials for everyday use produced on the primitive looms by the female folks are a visual delight. The process of weaving is a very slow and tedious and therefore, the end products are usually a trifle expensive.
In some tribal communities each member has the right to put on decorative attire and jewellery signifying his or her belonging to a certain ethnic group, there are others where only those who distinguished themselves by virtue of their deeds or those who desire to indicate their high social status are privileged to wear special attire and put on personal ornaments.
Among the Nagas 2 categories of clansman until the recent past had the right to adorn themselves in a particular way- the head takers and the givers of ceremonial feasts.
In many cases not only, they but their wives and even members of their families were entitled to distinct items of dress.
The insignia and achievements fall into two categories:
1) Those concerned with head hunting .
2) those concerned with feast of merit that were a demonstration of an individual’s level of prosperity and some gift of it to the community.
The type of body cloth worn by men and women differs from one Naga group to another. The design and colour, which varies not only between the tribes but also sometimes between clans of the same tribe and between different villages, records the wearer’s position in society.
There are around 16 tribes in Nagaland and each may have its own distinctive design and colour combination. Each may have a different design for some special occasion.
The tribes are: Ao, Konyak, Sema, Chakesang, Angami, Lotha, Sangtam, Phom, Chang, Kheimungan, Yimchunger, Zeilang, Rengma, Tikhir, Mokware, Chirr.
Painting on a few clothes are practiced only by the Lothas, Aos and Rengmas. The Ao art of painting resembles that of the Rengmas although the conventional pattern is different. Aos paint the white band of their famous warrior shawl, which can be worn only by one who had taken heads in war or who has performed feasts of merit. The figure of elephant, tiger, mithun, cock, dao spear and human heads are painted with black on the white median band. The colour is prepared from the sap of a tree, which is mixed with very strong rice beer and the ash of its own leaves. Sometimes, the ash of bamboo leaves is used in place of Tangko leaves resulting into a grey fluid, which is applied with a pointed end of the bamboo stick. Painting is done by old men only. He works free hand on the lines of the thread. The same medium is used by the Rengmas.
The handicrafts of Nagaland are designed in beautiful patters which depict the tradition of the Nagas. They are in great demand in India and abroad. The use of vibrant colours and unique designs in the fabrics make them look very attractive. They are known for their great quality and durability. Nagaland shawls are very famous among tourists. They are woven into different designs depending on the different tribes who weave them. Cane and bamboo work, wood carving, blacksmithy and pottery are the most popular handicrafts work of the Nagas.
A wide variety of figures are carved meticulously on wood. Commonly carved figures are human figure, mithun head, hornbill, elephant,leopard and tiger. The Konyak tribe is believed to be the most skilled wood carvers. Cane and bamboo are produced in abundance in the forests of Nagaland. The Nagas utilize them in the best possible manner to make amazing items such as baskets, hats, armlets, necklaces, mats, shields and other decorative items. Beautiful pots in various designs are made by the Nagas by the use of hands only. Blacksmithy is practised by most of the tribes, except for Lothas who consider this art inauspicious as they believe that a person involved in this trade does not live long. However, the Konyaks are the best blacksmiths.