Mayel Lyang Embodied: ‘Tradition’ and Contemporary Lepcha Textiles
The Lepchas, an ethnic group indigenous to the Himalayas and the Darjeeling hills, have been weaving textiles from local nettle (Girardinia diversifolia) for millennia. However, their native land, centered around the former Kingdom of Sikkim in modern-day northeastern India, has been the site of centuries of cultural exchange and colonization despite its remoteness, entailing wide-ranging and continuous social, political, and economic changes within the area. Rapid regional industrialization, and the concomitant globalization process and urbanization will potentially further transform Lepcha culture. Despite this, the Lepchas continue to weave textiles they consider traditional. With that in mind, this article will consider the concept of ‘tradition’ and its place in post-industrial Sikkim, using these textiles as a basis for understanding the significance of ‘tradition’ and how ‘tradition’ is used as a tool for carving a place out in the contemporary world. This study analyzes its deployment in contemporary Lepcha textiles so as to illuminate the relationship between tradition, textiles, and contemporary Lepcha identity.
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