Woven Together by Cherry Narula

Worldwide, there are over 476 million Indigenous peoples in more than 90 countries, representing 5,000 different cultures who speak a majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 language. These diverse and dynamic societies maintain the traditions of the original culture of their region. 

“International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples” is commemorated on August 9th every year to raise awareness of the needs of these people. Despite practicing unique and varied cultures, many of their problems are similar and their traditional lifestyle has been a source of resilience in this journey of seeking recognition for their way of life and their identities. 

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Indigenous peoples consider nature sacred and know how to take care of it. Their deep respect for nature sustains ways of life that enhance knowledge of nature conservation and use of natural resources. Indigenous perspectives can aid conservation efforts and increase biodiversity sustainment through traditional practices. These practices are also essential to ensure that species survive and thrive. It is key to understand and recognise Indigenous relationships to the environment by learning and working together in preservation efforts. Indigenous communities are ideal custodians of ecosystems and are vital for a better world. 

Throughout history, Indigenous peoples have been subjected to violations of their rights and as the United Nations and governments worldwide work towards restoring the rights of Indigenous peoples, we can help by appreciating and recognising their culture and wisdom. Each of the 5,000 diverse Indigenous cultures worldwide have their own unique history and traditions. In British Columbia alone there are over 200 First Nation communities, each one having its own uniquely diverse culture and language. Canada is home to about 1.7 million Indigenous peoples. Similarly, in another part of the world, in India there are over 104 million Indigenous peoples. While appreciating the fabric of two diverse cultures in two different continents, there is an impression of a weave running through one end of the world to the other. Despite being culturally distinct societies and communities, a common spirit of shared values becomes evident frequently.

In North America, Coast Salish peoples are a grouping of Indigenous peoples with several different cultures and languages and their dynamic and diverse culture includes a number of First Nations who are inextricably bound to land and natural resources. This connection also constitutes the basis of the physical and spiritual well-being of people who have mostly lived in the territories along the Northwest Pacific Coast comprising of parts of Washington and Oregon states in the United States and the province of British Columbia in Canada. In British Columbia, this includes the ecologically diverse Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca, also known as the Salish sea. The Strait of Georgia itself is one of the world’s most biologically productive marine ecosystems having a large variety of marine habitats that support about 3,000 species of marine life, making the Coast Salish fisheries well known across the globe.

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Historically, Coast Salish peoples have lived in permanent villages during the winter and in temporary camps in the summer while gathering food. They are well known for their beautiful and unique art—their creations centered on story-telling and spirituality. They use Totem poles as a traditional way of telling their stories by commemorating family history, ancestry, or events, and these are mostly carved out of red cedar and painted in vibrant colours. Totem poles come alive when the stories related to their crests are known and the crests tell the story of the family to whom they belong. These stories serve to document important events and family histories. Wealthy families may have more than one crest to mark the family’s lineage. Traditionally, Coast Salish peoples have also carved house posts to feature animals and spiritual beings—the carved planks used both on the interior and exterior of their ceremonial houses. The artistic life of the Coast Salish peoples brings to life sculptures, paintings, robes, blankets, and woven baskets. 

Salish culture is renowned for the art of weaving and the use of the spindle whorl. The womenfolk are responsible for making blankets and girls train with their grandmothers at a very young age to carry on the legacy. They are renowned skilled weavers of the Pacific Northwest, famous for their beautiful twill blankets. Salish blankets were used as currency to purchase goods and were given to other villages as a sign of prosperity of the community or individual presenting it. These were also presented to honour members of the community. These are still used as a mark of status and protection in ceremonies. Salish blankets are considered protective garments of powerful spiritual significance, offering focus and strength during life changing events. 

The Coast Salish spindle whorls are known for their exceptional carved geometric, human, or animal designs. The loom is made of two vertical posts supported by two horizontal bars. The blankets are woven on those bars. The vertical posts are used for making adjustments and variations. Coast Salish peoples have used weaving materials found locally, such as cedar bark, willow bark, nettle fibre, milkweed fibre, mountain goat’s wool, and woolly dog’s hair. Shredded cedar bark twisted with wool of mountain goats has been used to form the warp. Their legacy includes twined mountain goat wool robes, twill-plaited blankets in geometric designs made of goat wool, cattail fluff, as well as dog wool sheared from small woolly dogs. Salish wool was mostly created by mixing goat and dog wool. The white wool of the mountain goat is the most revered fibre for Coast Salish peoples. The mountain goat is considered the purest of all animals since it lives in remote areas with a proximity to the sky. However, these days, domestic sheep wool is mostly used by Coast Salish weavers. 

Weaving cattail mats and baskets were also an important part of daily life. Women sewed cattail leaves together to make large mats used for shelters, dividers, insulation, kneeling pads, and sleeping mats. Similarly, baskets were used in almost every area of daily life. Coiled, twined, or plaited baskets were used for regular household chores. Baskets were used for gathering, storing, and preparing food, storing household goods, transporting objects, and protecting infants. Coiled baskets made of cedar roots were tight enough to boil soups. Twined baskets made of materials that include cattail leaves, spruce roots and cedar bark were more pliable and softer than coiled baskets. Utility baskets were mostly made of split cedar bark and grass by both plaiting and twining techniques. Some baskets were decorated with motifs and geometric patterns made from materials such as dyed cedar bark, bear grass, or horsetail rhizomes. Painted designs also decorated some baskets on the outside. Colours and dyes were created from plants and natural mineral sources.

On the other side of the world, in Asia, the Indigenous peoples of the mountain frontier between India and Burma are called Nagas. They belong to about 66 different tribes that have a population of approximately 3.5 million. Nagas constitute various ethnic groups that are native to northeastern India and northwestern Myanmar. In India, Naga tribes reside in the northeastern states of Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh. Traditionally, Nagas established their settlements on hilltops and mountains to defend themselves from neighbouring tribes. The Naga villages were designed to be self-sufficient and secure and they have a great understanding of the wildlife that surrounds them. Their legends depict humans and animals exchanging roles and providing for one another and this interrelationship with the animal world is reflected in the Naga artwork. 

Majority of the Naga tribes call Nagaland home where about 2 million Nagas belonging to sixteen major tribes live. The Nagas believe in the oneness and harmony with their environment. 

Nagaland is primarily a mountainous state with the Naga Hills emerging from the Brahmaputra valley in Assam. The tributaries of one of the world’s largest rivers, the Brahmaputra, criss-crosses the terrain. This land is rich in rain forests with unique flora and fauna. The evergreen tropical and sub-tropical forests have a rich foliage of bamboo, palm, rattan, timber, and mahogany forests with more than 490 species of birds and 396 species of orchids out of which some have importance for horticultural and medicinal purposes. Nagaland also has an abundance of natural stone and mineral reserves such as marble, limestone, chromium, coal, cobalt, iron, and nickel. This terrain is a part of a complex mountain system that has been declared a National Geological Monument of India.

Nagaland is also known for its terraced paddy fields. Naga tribes still carve the hillsides by hand, using their traditional methods. The Indigenous system of paddy cultivation has been used to bring back to life deserted barren fields. A network of water channels irrigates the paddy terraces, with bamboo pipes being used at times to regulate the water flow. This terraced paddy cultivation, hand carved on hillsides, is a great visual treat. Jute and cotton are also commonly cultivated to complement the rich Naga tradition of art and craft. Weaving is a traditional art of the Nagas that has been handed down through generations. The art of weaving and wearing the traditional dress is linked to several diverse traditions and beliefs. The colour combination, pattern and design symbolise a specific tribe and status in society. Each Naga tribe has its unique textile heritage with distinct motifs and designs.

The Nagas are best known for their shawls. The traditional use of yarn and natural dyes makes the Naga textiles unique. The women folk mostly are engaged in the spinning of textiles. Little girls can be seen experimenting with weaving while playing with toy looms. In these remote misty mountains, Naga women can still be seen on the hillsides using their traditional backstrap looms. The Naga loom is a simple backstrap loom, also called the lion loom that is adjustable to the body of the weaver. The lion loom is a simple, low-cost, portable loom that uses two parallel bamboos to stretch the warp yarn. One end is fixed to a post or wall and the other end is held steady by a strap around the waist of the weaver. Weaving techniques have been perfected over the centuries to allow a single weaver to weave wider fabrics in less time. This led to the creation of the fly shuttle loom to weave wider fabrics in larger quantities. Traditional shawl weaving is still done on the lion looms while fabrics are woven on the fly shuttle loom. Natural dyes extracted from plants, barks, and roots are used for textile dyeing.

Another distinctive Naga craft is the bamboo craft. Bamboo is extensively used in daily life. Furniture, baskets, mats, cups, utensils, or musical instruments like mouth organ, flute, and trumpet are all made of bamboo. Nagas also take great pride in their tradition of basket weaving. Each Naga tribe has a distinct style of basketry. Traditionally every Naga man was a bamboo craftsman. This was a skill that a young boy would pick up from his elders. Backpacks made of cane were used for hunting. Baskets made of cane and bamboo were used to fetch water and collect harvest. Baskets continue to be used for storage and for carrying essential items, small children, or livestock. Even today, mostly men weave baskets and their first gift to their beloved is an intricately woven basket as a symbol of their commitment. 

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Despite the ethnic and cultural differences between Indigenous peoples all over the world, there are some striking similarities. These similarities stem from their deep relationship to the environment, land, and natural resources. Each aspect of their lives is inseparable from the natural world. Their stories and ceremonies are a constant reminder to them of their sacred duty to protect the environment. Many of their beliefs and superstitions can be linked to deep truths and profound philosophies. There is an interconnectedness that runs through the spirit of learning from the past and utilising Indigenous methods to protect historical sites, wildlife, and the environment. 

Each Indigenous culture is unique and distinct from the dominant societies in which they live today. When we do not make the effort to learn about indigenous cultures, we fail to understand the value of their practices and way of life. Their remarkable culture and way of life must be recognised, understood, and protected. The United Nations has been working to strengthen international cooperation for solving the problems faced by Indigenous peoples worldwide. A new decade for the Indigenous community begins next year with the celebration of the “Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022 – 2032”. The Indigenous peoples play an important role in sustaining the diversity of the world’s biological and cultural landscape. Traditional values and knowledge systems must be maintained and passed on to future generations. The rich cultural history and the unique system of Indigenous beliefs that have been passed from the remote past are vital for the future well-being of the world. 

Bibliography

Encyclopedia.com. (2020, September 24). Naga.

https://www.encyclopedia.com/philosophy-and-religion/eastern-religions/buddhism/naga

Government of Canada. (2020. September 23). Indigenous peoples.

https://www.canada.ca/en/services/indigenous-peoples.html

Kennedy, D., & Bouchard, R. (2006, February 7). Coast Salish. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/coastal-salish

The World Bank IBRD IDA. (2020, September 24). Indigenous Peoples. https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/indigenouspeoples

UNESCO. (2020, January 08). Indigenous Peoples. 

https://en.unesco.org/indigenous-peoples

United Nations. (2020, August 9). International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. https://www.un.org/en/observances/indigenous-day

CHERRY NARULA: WRITER, PROFILE

Born in India, Cherry lived in several towns all over India, ranging from the foothills of Darjeeling to the Western Ghats and towns of the Thar Desert to the Himachal hills where she explored the many small towns and villages.

She pursued studies in English and French literature, followed by ten years based in New Delhi, in an airline career that took flight to France for several professional training programs.

CHERRY NARULA

Cherry moved to Brampton, Canada, 25 years ago and it has been home ever since. Fortunate to continue with her field of work in aviation for the next two decades, until a mass layoff took her back to school to pursue a paralegal program.

Her urge to write was rekindled while researching legal cases. She published her first book in December 2020, titled Nona and Daniel – Taming the Monkey, which is dedicated to all grandparents.

Cherry believes that one thing constant in life is ‘learning’, and life can be continuously enriched, without a single dull moment, by taking a flight to read and learn. CHERRY

A Cup Of Chai by Cherry Narula

Cherry Narula’s work has appeared in the Brampton Writers Guild 2020 Anthology.


Chai, Hindi word for tea, has been crucial for connecting people for centuries and it comes as no surprise that this unifying brew has helped tea drinkers cope during lockdowns. 

In our latest Covid Pandemic, people have continued to connect over tea, even though it is being done over Zoom or Google Meet. Tea traditions to connect with friends and family, were only waiting to be tweaked with the help of these innovative ideas and technology. Two friends in Scotland even made it in the news by sharing tea when they brought their folding chairs and flasks of tea to the border between their two councils. They set themselves up four meters apart beneath their council boundary signs. This news about two dear friends enjoying tea together, yet following strict council rules, brought smiles to many faces. 

Tea Plantation South India. Photo: Ken Puddicombe

A simple cup of tea has a universal appeal to soothe and calm. After water, tea is the second most popular drink worldwide. Anyone who has travelled on trains in India, can never forget the cheerful calls for Chai at railway stations by the Chaiwallas (tea vendors). The bliss of drinking that hot, spiced tea in red clay cups with an earthy hue, lingers for years. At the peak of a hot Indian summer, it is popular to hear, “Have a cup of tea, it will cool you.” In winter months, the same magical brew “will warm you.” This amazing brew is recommended for almost every situation. Versatile to the hilt, it can be sweet, salty, sour, spicy or a blend of various tones. Thus, in a country of more than 1.3 billion, Chai is not simply a drink of tea, it is an integral part of life. 

The United Nations has recognised that tea has medicinal properties and is beneficial for health.  

Many have their memories of tea as a concoction of various spices and herbs used as a remedy for a sore throat. This is an Indian Ayurvedic concoction, traditionally called Kaadha, that is popularly used to soothe a cough or cold. Also known as mom’s or grandma’s special formula, Kaadha is recommended for throat infections, as well building immunity. Kaadha, sweetened with honey or jaggery has soothed many a kid during a cold or fever. Commonly, Kaadha is made from spices such as: ginger, fennel, star anise, turmeric, giloy, mint, liquorice, cloves, black pepper, basil, carom seeds, cardamom, and cinnamon boiled together. Some add salt in addition to a sweetener such as honey or jaggery. This can be consumed either with or without milk or lemon. The recipe is flexible to adapt to different climates, seasons and availability of ingredients. This Kaadha is a versatile herbal immunity concoction that has been embraced by many as a part of their daily lifestyle. 

India is the second largest exporter of tea in the world and consumes over 70% of the tea it produces. Tea stalls can be found in all cities on almost every street. From the hidden nooks of Himalayan villages to the off-beaten path in the salt desert, tea stalls are everywhere. The Chaiwallas and tea stalls play a vital role in the rhythm of daily life that transcends boundaries. Friendly chit chat, gossip or intense political discussions take place over this small cup of chai, even among strangers. Moreover, India is also home to more than 14,000 tea estates. Many of these are of historical significance and are great places to visit for nature lovers. One such plantation, the Kolukkumalai tea estate, is situated at a height of 7,900 ft above sea level. This tea estate has a small tea factory where leaves are still hand-picked and hand-packaged for distribution. 

The innumerable varieties of tea have a flavour to suit each palate: Kangra Tea with hints of earthiness, the fragrant Darjeeling Tea, the mellow Assam Chai, the popular Masala Chai, Mumbai’s Cutting Chai, the roasted aroma of Lopchu Tea, floral tones of Nilgiri Tea and so on. The Himalayan white tea from Darjeeling and the second flush Darjeeling Oolong,

Camellia Sinensis and Camellia Assamica are exclusive varieties. Apart from these, there is the unique preparation of butter tea and the Kashmiri Pink Chai also known as Gulabi Chai, Noon Chai or Shir Chai. Butter tea is ideal for high altitude Himalayan regions. Thick, buttery tea is made by soaking crushed brick tea overnight in water, followed by churning it with salt, goat’s milk, and yak butter. Kashmiri Chai is perfect for cold weather and is topped with crushed nuts, infused with spices, salt and baking soda as key ingredients. Baking soda gives it the rosy hue and salt prevents dehydration at high altitudes. 

The first International Tea Day was celebrated in New Delhi in 2005. Sri Lanka also started observing it in 2006 and more countries followed to celebrate December 15 as International Tea Day. In 2015, India proposed a global recognition of ‘International Tea Day’ to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. This led to the International Day of Tea being celebrated worldwide on May 21 chosen to coincide with the season of tea production in most tea producing countries. The International Tea Day is significant for public events, seminars and celebration of tea culture. Challenges faced by tea plantations and its workers are discussed, remedies are presented and steps to implement changes are approved. This day is also popular for creative tea recipe posts on social media, accompanied by amusing and nostalgic tea related memories. 

The different types of tea enjoyed in various ways also highlight cultural diversity worldwide. In the east, in China, green tea is vital for health benefits, hospitality traditions and ancestral ceremonies. In Japan, the Tea Ceremony is historic and an important part of Japanese culture. The tea ceremony includes the tradition of how it is prepared as well as the manner in which it is consumed. This ceremony is representative of harmony, tranquility, purity and respect. In Taiwan, the popular Pearl Milk Tea with tapioca balls comes in various innovative varieties. These can be in the form of fruity iced tea or milk tea similar to a milkshake. This bubble tea has become very popular with the younger generation all over the world. 

In Britain, High Tea and Afternoon Tea have been a tradition with popular black tea blends like English Breakfast and Earl Grey. It comes as no surprise that Britain has some of the most delightful tea rooms in the world. Even a city like Paris, well known for its café culture, has a history of remarkable Salons de Thé’. The oldest, Mariage Freres, first opened its tearoom in 1854. Experts are present in the salon to help choose the perfect tea. An ancient tea museum can be visited on the first floor. Another renowned Salon de Thé, Carette, opened in Place du Trocadéro in 1927. 

In North America, protests over high taxes on imported tea in 1773, led to the well-known history of the Boston Tea Party. Three shiploads of tea were dumped into the harbour by protestors. 

Tea has been consumed as both a hot and cold beverage in the United States and Iced tea gained widespread popularity as a thirst-quenching drink a century ago. Since then, innovative iced tea recipes made their way into recipe books and menus and now, tea plantations can be found in the United States primarily in Alabama, California, Georgia, Florida and Hawaii. Canada’s only tea farm is located in British Columbia where Westholme Tea Company in the Cowichan Valley has a tea shop, gallery of imported teas and an 11-acre organic tea farm. 

Thousands of years of the history of tea spans across the world along with a treasure trove of stories. These are accompanied by an inheritance of traditions bringing friends and family together. In any single get-together, it is not uncommon to find everyone relishing a distinct brew. The flavours and aromas of tea continue to evolve tremendously to include infusions of diverse roots, flower petals and herbs. A stress buster for many, the unique charm of each blend brings nature into our lives with each new cup of chai.