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Eclectic, earthen and funky are some of the adjectives that can be used to describe tribal jewelry, while arty, refined and evergreen can be used to describe ethnic jewelry. Even in the olden days, the tribes used every imaginable form of jewelry be it be the usual necklaces, bangles, and earrings or exotic items like ear cuffs, lip rings, and toe rings. Since most indigenous tribes were relatively poor or were frequently plundered by colonial powers, their selection of raw materials was humble and was limited to shells, claws, jaws of animals, ivory, wood, etc.
India has been endowed with a rich tribal culture, which despite modernisation has kept its unique traditions and values intact. Tribal Jewelry still bears a definite earthy charm. On the other hand, being different from the conventionally manufactured jewelry items, the rarity of ethnic jewelry is cherished by many.
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Characteristics of Tribal Jewelry
Tribal jewelry communicates a lot about the wearer’s status in the group, his wealth and possessions, spiritual beliefs and even functional habits. Thus, apart from depicting a customarily idealised appearance, the ornaments give a brief glimpse into the socio-cultural traditions of a particular group.
Even in the olden eras, there were ornaments to prettify every significant part of the body. This is evident from the fact that several elaborate handmade ornaments had been excavated from Mohenjo-Daro and other sites of Indus Valley Civilisation. Also, Mahabharata and Ramayana are replete with elaborate descriptions of ornaments and the mystical powers they possessed. Further, there are several accounts stating how the royals of ancient India hired ingenious craftsmen to craft exquisite pieces of jewelry. Some of these jewels have trickled down from one generation to another, retained their own identity and have become an eternal part of familial treasures. These pieces have become priceless over time.
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Tribal jewelry integrates humble natural materials like leaves, berries, feathers, leather, claws, flowers, and much more into majestic pieces of art that are wearable. Demographics of the region, availability of resources and proposed functionality are some of the factors that make tribal jewelry of one group differ from the other. Besides, even extreme poverty and lack of precious metals have not deterred the tribal crafters from creating glorious ornaments. In fact, it has been observed that tribes of certain region may be scantily clothed, but they still adorn ample amount of jewelry on their bodies.
Tribal Jewelry Styles in Different Indian States:
1. Madhya Pradesh- Tribes of Bastar:
The use of grass, natural beads and cane make the ornaments made by tribes of Bastar stand out amidst the rest. Most of the residents of Bastar district still prefer to adorn traditional ornaments made out of copper, glass, silver, wood, peacock feathers and even wild flowers.
It is fairly common to spot indigenous women wearing necklaces made out of one rupee coins, which is an excellent example of creativity.
2. Rajasthan- Banjara Tribes:
This nomadic group adorns colourful and weighty ornaments, embossed with coins, shells, beads and metallic mesh which make them distinguishable at the very first glance. Also, the Banjara tribes adorn ornate belts around their waists to complement their vibrant attires.
Apart from Banjaran jewelry, Rajasthani silverware is quite popular all over the world.Rajasthani jewels are often decorated with colourful beads as well as tinkling silver bells and bear a distinctive oxidised appearance.
3. Meghalaya-Tribes of Garo, Khasi and Jaintia hills:
Red coral beads of Jaintia and Khasi as well as thin glass fluted stems of Garo are quite popular all over the world. These beads and stems are often strung together to form ornate necklaces, bracelets, trinkets, earrings, belts and many other jewelry items.
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4. Sikkim-Bhutia tribes:
Traditionally, the Bhutia tribes used gold to craft elaborate jewelry, but now due to the cost-factor they have switched over to silver, which is comparatively cheaper. The use of turquoise stones, dzee stones and corals makes this jewelry style utterly unique.
5. Arunachal Pradesh:
- Wacho Tribes: This tribal group incorporates naturally available resources like seeds, beetles, feathers, bamboo and cane to decorate their jewels.
- Karka Gallong Tribes: The women of this group adorn immaculately crafted coils of iron rings as earrings to complement their metal embossed leather belts. Also, their adornments are heavily studded with beads.
- Rengami Nagas: Men belonging to the Rengami Nagas group wear jewels made from flowers in their ears and the red blossoms are most popular among them.
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6. Nagland-Agami Tribes:
Men of this tribalal group adorn green ferns and foliage in their hair knots. It gives a very natural look and shows one’s closeness to nature and its surroundings.
7. Himachal Pradesh- Tribes of Chamba, Kangra, Mandi and Kullu:
Himachali elliptical anklets, iron-headed bangles and ornate daggers are quite popular all over the world for their uniqueness. Also, traditional collar-like silver Hansalis, silver chokers called Kachs and Shellac filled silver bangles are commonly worn by pahari women of Himachal. Apart from their aesthetics, the Himachalis believe that silver ornaments protect the adorner from evil spirits.
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8. Chattisgarh- Hill Maria Tribes
Traditionally, the tribal jewellers of Chhattisgarh used fine drawn copper wires, brass and iron (now, gold and silver ) withnatural seed, bone or wood embellishments to craft one of a kind fillets, collars, laces, square-bar anklets, trinkets, rings and much more. Conical twin-top earrings and nose rings of Hill Maria tribes are quite popular.
9. West Bengal- Tribes of Maukhali:
Bengali Tikli (worn on forehead), Kaan (traditional earrings), chik (gold choker), Hunsuli, Mantasha and Dokra are known for their exemplary craftsmanship. These ornaments are made using gold, silver, precious stones as well as wooden beads and are all exquisite in style.
10. Bihar-Santhal Tribes:
Filigree motif earrings, Kardhanis (worn around waist) and Chudha bangles of Santhal are insignias of ethnicity. Also, their vibrantly jingling jhumkis are popular all over the world.
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11. Maharashtra-Halba tribes:
This group of tribes uses metals like gold, silver, brass and aluminium to create beautiful Khosas (a beautiful lock of braid), Khinwas (for ear piercings) and phuli (for nose piercings). Also, tattoo jewelry is very common among the people belonging to this tribal group.
12. Karnataka- Konda Kapus tribes:
The Konda Kapus tribes use silver and copper coins to make astonishing ornaments. Since these ornaments are made using old Indian coins, they are always sought-for by antique collectors. Necklaces made from 25 paisa and 50 paisa coins are commonly worn by the women of the group.
Present Trends in Tribal Jewelry
Tribe inspired jewelry is the hottest trend these days and can be seen anywhere and everywhere from red carpet to the fashion streets. Their vivid colours, unconventional geometric designs and out-of-the-box look are what appeals to the audience at a glance. Also, they are relatively easier on the pocket and are a big hit among the young fashionistas.
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Tribal ornaments have turned into wardrobe staples in no time. Be it casual movie afternoons or formal evening celebrations, it has caught up fast with evolving interests of celebrities, socialites and even working women. Their uniqueness has made them a part of the hip-hop cult and even heritage for many.
The best tip to embellish your modern look with some bold tribe inspired ornaments is to pair them up with a simple kurta or even t-shirt and allow the ornaments to steal the show.