The Indigenous population of India comprises of an estimated 104 million people or 8.6% of the national population. Indigenous people all around the world experience discrimination and continuously more difficulty in living out their lives in their traditional means. Not only are the rights of indigenous people restricted but also their livelihoods are deprived from them as forest lands, which would help preserve natural species, are taken away for industrial use instead. In India the largest concentrations of Indigenous Peoples are found in the seven north-eastern states of India, and in one such state of Manipur, an initiative has been started to empower the indigenous community. They do this by providing them with a sustainable livelihood through Kouna craft The land here is rich in Kouna and its craft is a part of the local tradition. The provision of employment in handicrafts, ensures security and respect within one’s society, helping to empower indigenous communities.
Kouna is a grass-like plant usually grown in the low-lying paddy fields and is cultivated locally. Kouna cultivation is less demanding than other crops and once cultivated, gives a higher produce. It’s biodegradable, non-toxic and air-conditioning (absorbs Co2 when growing and fixates this in its fibre) properties make it a perfect eco-conscious material for home décor products such as mats, bags, baskets and more. It is also naturally immune to insects and helps to reduce water pollution by removing harmful microorganisms and toxic metals.
100% Kouna|100% natural dyes used | Durable and strong | Lightweight | Spacious
Kouna is largely cultivated in Manipur’s villages, hence it is locally collected and then transformed into Kouna crafts.
Once Kouna is dried, it undergoes selection. Tillers are picked from the bundle based on their diameter, colour and finesse. The tillers are then cut into the appropriate sizes and soaked in water to bring about a softness to the Kouna. The grass is first woven into a flat circular or oval shape, (depending on the base of the item), after which the grass spokes are guided upwards to form the ‘warp’ which is then interwoven with the section that can be considered the weft.
When weaving, basic tools are used to tame a strand of grass into place according to the pattern or texture required. The main tools used while weaving are hammer, nails, needle and a cutter or knife. The hammer is used to flatten the reeds before weaving and to even out the final product. The nails help nail the reeds so that the shape of the object is retained. The needle is used to tighten the gaps between woven lines and to fold in the reeds while finishing. And lastly, a cutter or knife is used to size and splice the reeds at the start and to cut the extra trimmings for a smooth finish.
Additional embroidery is done to make the products look attractive and unique. Dye is also sometimes used to bring an aesthetic look to the products. All-natural colours like vegetable dyes are used, and no synthetic dyes or chemicals are used.
Kouna is a natural material, requiring little energy to extract and has minimal impact on the environment. Furthermore, the process of handmaking the products using basic tools like hammers and cutters as well using embroidery and weaving to create the products requires no need for machines and thus uses very little energy.
UN Sustainable Development Goal
By using natural materials to create Kouna crafts and the production process comprising mainly of handmaking products, requiring less energy and much lower carbon footprints than items made on mass-production assembly lines, this project contributes to target 12.2; "achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources"
Indigenous communities are empowered through employment. By giving the local artisans employment through a sustainable means, not only are indigenous communities gaining income for their cultural crafts but also gaining respect for their craftsmanship and pride from showing their skills to the world, while keeping their traditions alive.
UN Sustainable Development Goal
By contributing to providing livelihoods to local artisans and increasing their job prospects, this project contributes to target 8.5; "achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value"
By focusing on creating better livelihoods for indigenous communities so they can assimilate into society with respect and regard of their work and themselves as an individual in society, this project contributes to target 10.3; "Ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action in this regard"