She is a 90 yr old weaver who has been weaving for the past seven decades. Meet Khezheli Chishi, a traditional weaver from Nagaland whose passion for work is still alive and can still weave about five shawls/mekhalas in a month.
She suffers no health problems and effortlessly slides a thread through a needle without wearing spectacles. “People are amazed that I can still weave,” she says.
What is the story of this 90 yr old weaver?
Khezheli’s story is not one without hardship. Her wrinkled but firm hands speak volumes about the hard work she has put into weaving all these years. Khezheli was born in October, 1925 at Sastami village in Zunheboto district. After studying up to class 2 at Impur in Mokokchung district, she returned to her village and became the local church woman leader. In 1943 she married Yetozu Chishi, a school teacher from Naghuto village. Unfortunately, she was widowed early and was left to fend for her seven children.
Undeterred by the adversity, Khezheli used the only weapon she had to move ahead in life- weaving. She applied for a weaving licence at Mokokchung and thereafter started her own unit at Naghuto village. She began to participate in annual exhibitions that were held during Republic and Independence Day at Kohima. In 1985, her work was chosen from among the 16 Naga indigenous tribes at an exhibition held at Calcutta and New York. The same year she received a National Award from the Government of India. She has also won a total of 45 awards from the Nagaland state government.
Over the years, Khezheli has trained hundreds of young women to weave. During the initial years, the state government offered her a monthly stipend of Rs. 3000 for imparting training to girls at Zunheboto. She moved to Dimapur in 1986, where she set up another training unit at Chekiye village. Apart from the regular supply of traditional (Sumi) and contemporary Naga attires to the Department of Industry and Commerce, she also takes orders from clients. Her work is renowned and marketed not only in India but across the world. She uses the traditional technique for weaving and all her designs are very elaborate.
Khezheli is credited to have created six new designs – namely: Ahuna, Tsulichepu, Ghile, Aghile, Kiyepu and Tiqhi (mekhalas worn by Sumi women). She was also “chosen” and “entrusted” to weave the “Michiphi”, a shawl that was produced out of a vision revealed by the “Holy Spirit” to Isak Chishi Swu, Chairman of the NSCN (IM). She is currently the oldest surviving weaver in the Sumi community having in-depth knowledge about traditional patterns and motifs.
Khezheli’s pays extreme importance to keeping traditional knowledge alive. And that is why she has engaged her daughters-in-law and granddaughters in her work. “I want to make sure that our tradition doesn’t fade away,” she says. Concerned about the present generation’s lack of interest in weaving and traditional attires, she says: “People spend lakhs of rupees buying traditional clothes during their daughters’ weddings but they don’t teach them the importance of it.”
Apart from weaving, Khezheli keeps her mind active by involving herself in the church. “Whatever I have is God’s blessing. I owe Him everything,” she says. And though age may have caught up with her, this 90 yr old weaver intends to keep spinning her yarn. “She will weave as long as she lives,” her daughter in- law said.