Longpi Hamlei: Black Gold of the East

 7 minute read

 

Music as requested by author

In Varietate Unitas rightly defines the cultural diversities in India with a commonly shared ethos. Here one experiences the melange of several ethnicities outcropped in varied locations. What could be better than to experience this noble amalgamation of cultural unity through ethnic cuisines prepared in traditional stoneware vessels from Manipur? I happen to accidentally bump into these at a fair when searching for perfect utensils to compliment my cooking savoured with ethnicity. While the dull stainless steel vessels are totally drab for cooking in varied temperatures or in the microwave, the wooden are equally ditching as that succour only for serving food. As a passionate cook myself, I found these cookware utensils heavenly to meet all my needs. These products are produced mainly for cooking; you can buy ceramic cookware, frying pans, plates and platters, bowls and from a wide range of products. But this is not it! You can also see various other home decor objects, gift items produced in Longpi.

Manipur-Longpi

Acting as a slice of paradise among the other Seven Sister States, mystic Manipur is located in the hilly outcrops of the Himalayan ranges in the north-east of India bordering with Myanmar in the south. The name in itself means ‘A jewelled land’, and Jawaharlal Nehru precisely described the state as the 'Jewel of India’. Manipur has reserved a special position with its distinct cultural identity and taste in nature. With a motherly nurturing quality, it has attempted to preserve its values and originality against the lifeless of modern-day inventions. As you go on exploring the ‘Switzerland of India’, you are likely to be enthralled by the exotic landscapes surrounded by captivating emerald green valleys.

As you keep finding the lost self wandering around, you cannot help but be dragged towards the tribal villages in this princely state. Longpi is one of them where you can rediscover yourself with an earthly touch, enjoying the serene beauty amidst friendly people. Picturesque Longpi is a visual delight. Longpi is commonly attributed to refer to two villages in Ukhrul District, Longpi Kajui and Longpi Khullen. The inhabitants of Longpi are known as the Tangkhuls, a sect of the Naga tribe. The name ‘Longpi’ (long-pee) locally means ‘group lodge’. The mythical origins suggest how this term was coined.

This small village is now making national and international attainments with its sassy yet customary Black Stone Pottery or “Longpi Hamlei”.

 

The Wondrous Pottery

Longpi Hamlei was originally known as ‘Longpi Loree’ and is one of the rarest forms of pottery in the world; it doesn’t use the potter’s wheel but instead uses moulds, tools and the artists’ adept graceful hands to produce these creations. Another speciality of these vessels is that they are purely made of stones. Rich in religious and ritualistic affinities these astonishing potteries are claimed to be originated from their goddess Panthoibi. The Tangkhuls attributed their goddess as the ‘Mother of the Universe’ and creator of all forms of art. These pristine vessels are not only used for their unmatched utilitarian values but also its appearance is considered grandeur at auspicious festivals. The celestial reverence of Longpi Hamlei is reflected from its obligatory presence in events such as marriages, childbirths and local festivals. One of them is that its use is said to prevent morning sickness in pregnant women. Another interesting fact about Longpi pottery is that it is also called the ‘Royal pottery’ as the craft items could only be owned and used by the noble families of Manipur. Needless to say, the Maharajas of Manipur definitely had some taste!   

 

Production

Great dexterity is required as the internal pressure and external movement coordinates to produce a perfect pot. Longpi is the sole producer of these vessels as the required raw materials are available only in the vicinity. If you think that the dark charcoal colour results from colouring you are mistaken! The potters use Lison, a naturally black serpentinite stone found in Kapungrum, Ukhrul; and Salanali, a special brown weathered rock available in selected river banks. These stones are collected and tediously grounded till they become powder and then mixed with water in order to make a paste with thick clay-like consistency. The thick paste kneaded, a large slab is rolled out to form a cylinder. The cylinder is placed on a circular board, which, in turn, is placed on a stool. The potter moves around the clay himself, shaping the pot, supported from the inside with a rounded stone and beaten to the desired shape and thickness. The dried vessels are then fired in an open kiln at a temperature of about 900℃. These pots are taken out from the kiln and polished by Chiro Na, leaves of thick-leaved Oak (Lithocarpus pachyphllus). The pot is usually finished by rubbing the surface with the reddish-brown seed of a wild creeper and finally with beeswax. The effect is of an assured and full black lustre that bespeaks of the earth it came from and the hand it took to bring it to life.

As you want to know about the benefits, there are numerous. The Longpi black potteries are not only convenient for cooking but also for serving; these are meant for withstanding the high heat generated from direct cooking over gas, firewood and in an oven. Breaking contemporary beliefs of heavy stoneware, I found the vessels to be remarkably lightweight on the contrary. The serving sets are often accompanied with a cane handles, thus, useful for an easy grip and at the same time adds a queer mien. Whether I want rich oriental curries or thick gravy cooked in high flame or sautéed vegetables in low flame continental style, the vessels are engineered to mould itself to cater to the needs. One can cook for hours without the awful fear of burning food. Additionally, turning eco-friendly comes with a complimentary surprise from mother nature herself. Here’s how: the stoneware are efficient to preserve heat long after processing. Now you know that you are just a step away from becoming a fuel-friendly chef. Now prepare to sizzle your exquisite dishes with a whole new range of repositories. Shun your sophistication in cooking with a graceful serving. Do you know where I found solace when ordered my first dining sets? Agriculture being the main source of economic growth, trading these wares act as a secondary source of income. Hence, each contribution, though remarkably insignificant comparable to the labour invested in production, is a way to honour their efforts to become self-sufficient. Unlike other parts of India, Tangkhuls have no gender division in making the vessels; men and women equally involve themselves in the production. Mesmerised? Me too!

 

Unique features of Manipur Black Pottery

  • 100% Eco-friendly: This black pottery is made after mixing powdered serpentinite rock and weather rock along with clay and water. Chiron Na is used for black polish and beeswax for lustre.
  • Toilsome coiled method: Rather than a wheel, a coiled method is used for moulding the pots, in which potters themselves move around the material putting it on a flat surface and create many shapes in perfect coordination of external movement & internal pressure of hands.
  • Moulding and baking in open space: Moulding is done in open space and baking under the sky in forests. The moulded pots are baked around 10 hours on a bed made of cow-dung, straw and dried leaves.
  • Earthen flavour: This black pottery has earned popularity since origin, as the use of nature stone and hilly clay makes the cooked and stored dishes more delicious with earthen taste.
  • Gas and Microwave friendly: Use of black stone makes it fireproof pottery, which can be directly put over Gas and microwave.
  • Other features: The pots are lightweight and durable.

 

Fun Facts

Did you know, the Taj Group of Hotels in India, use this cookware for slow cooking and for their rich gravies and the dum biryanis, as it makes the cooking easier, and the taste delicious.

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