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Uncovering the fascinating costumes and ornaments of northeastern India

24 July 2014 by Emma

1965.177

Chrissy Partheni, Head of Museum Partnerships has been working in Ethnology to widen her curatorial skills. She has recently started to document a fascinating collection from northeastern India and here she gives us an insight into the objects she is working with:

“These heavy hair pins known as Hrokia, which are used by women, their smaller version, Sakia, used by men and the women’s costume belts are just a few of the many pieces donated to Liverpool Museum in 1965 by Ann Parry, the wife of Nevill Edward Parry. The gift comprising of 315 objects, included costumes, household objects, personal ornaments, weapons and musical instruments.

Nevill Edward Parry served as a Civil Servant in India. He was the Superintendent of the Lushai Hills, which is now in Mizoram, India between February 1924 and April 1928. He built his collection while there and later wrote a monograph on the Lakher people. He was particular interested in local customs and traditions and he called on Christian missionaries and colonial officials working in the area to preserve these skills as he thought this would likely mean that British rule could be more firmly established.

It has been fascinating to discover that many of the objects donated are described and even illustrated in Parry’s monograph: The Lakhers, London, 1931. We know for example the name of the hair pins and the fact that they were made of brass in the lost wax technique. We also know that the women use the pins to keep the hair in a knot loosely around the neck and that the overall hair look is meant to look untidy.  The men’s hairpins were meant to keep the hair in a knot above the forehead with a white cloth called khutang wrapped around the knot. Lakher men are very proud of their hair and they would not cut them at all after the age of nine.

The metal belts in the photograph are called chongchi and are made of brass spiral pieces held together by string. The belts are worn by the women to hold the overskirt around their waist and to cover the part of their body that was left exposed between the short jacket and the skirt. Belts are also a sign of the wearer’s wealth and Parry tells us that: “the women take pride in their belts being polished but the polish would come as a result of the belts being rubbed against the women’s body as they walk.”

We hope to feature a full costume and more objects from this fascinating collection in future blogs.”

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