The north-eastern state of Meghalaya is home to a variety of beautiful handicrafts; major ones being weaving (carpets, textiles, baskets, ornaments) and woodcarving. An important aspect of both Meghalaya’s culture and the tourism sector, it is done by the three tribal communities in Meghalaya - Garo, Khasi and Jaintia - all of whom have their own style and kind of craft-making. Cane mats, winnowing fans, umbrellas, caps, stools and baskets are some of the things that the craftspeople in Meghalaya produce.


The Garo, Khasi, and Jaintia communities are believed to have migrated to Meghalaya from southeast Asia. Owing to the abundance of bamboo in the region, these crafts emerged one by one. Wood crafts are not used for trade; they are a motif of artistic, decorative, and ceremonial value.

The craftwork is intricately made and is very beautiful to look at, and as such has received recognition in both India and abroad. Making products from cane and bamboo has become the prime occupation of many tribals in Meghalaya.


Bamboo and Cane Crafts

The products of bamboo and cane are mostly of two kinds - 

(i) Those required for everyday use. These are of medium quality, making them more useful locally.

(ii) Those of finer quality. They can be both decorative pieces or have a function to perform. Mostly used for sophisticated markets.

Attractive cane baskets and sieves are created by Khasis. The Garos are also rich in numerous sorts of bamboo cultures. Garo Hills are wealthy in bamboo and cane. Some of them also include a few species resembling Khasi bamboo and cane.

There are many kinds of constructions and crafts made from bamboo such as various kinds of baskets and mat making. Baskets domestically called khok or thugis are popular. A kind of artistic basket known as meghum khoks are produced in the Garo Hills; tribals use them to store important items including clothes. The Garos also do pokerwork, in which designs are burned into the bamboo with a red-hot pointed rod. Khasi ladies in Meghalaya wear a pretty, spherical hat composed of a circular bamboo frame with a thick brim that's lined with fabric. The crown is worked with a beautiful lattice style of cane at the edge and the top, every triangle within the pattern being tipped with a tiny low circular blob. Mats, moorahs, and Khasi umbrellas are made in light and medium qualities.

Different Kinds of Baskets

There are broadly six different types of baskets made in Meghalaya -

Open Weave Carrying Basket: The basket is shaped like a test-tube. It's plain-woven in a pattern akin to an open hexagon, using wide but skinny outer bamboo splits. Example: Khasi Pig Basket used to transport pigs.


Closed Weave Carrying Basket: The Khoh is a coarse, closed-weave basket used by the Khasis for general-purpose marketing. It is carried on the back by a head-strap. At the base, the warp elements in the side weave are sharply bent before going up the opposite side. Bamboo outer splits make up the weft element.

Shallow Carrying Basket: The Shang is shallow storage and shop-display basket used by the Jaintias and made from split bamboo. The bottom is plain-woven in a diagonal (twill) weave in four-fold symmetry around the centre. The side weave is formed by a spiralling filling component that has an inverted textile pattern on the centre line of every side. A twill weave in four-fold symmetry around the middle is used to weave the base. The side weave is formed by a spiralling weft element that has an upside-down herringbone pattern along the centre line of each side. 

Small Storage Basket: The Khasis use small double-walled baskets to store valuables and other small articles. These are square-bottomed articles with the sides moving up vertically and ending in a rim that is circular. The inner layer is woven with wide bamboo inner splits; the outer layer uses thin bamboo outer splits.

In the Large Storage Basket variant, the Khasis use a rectangular box with a lid open from split bamboo. An identical double-walled structure is given to both the container and the lid. 

Coiled Cane Containers: It is in the form of a cylinder. Coiled whole-cane elements make up the container and also the lid. A flat circular base is formed by a single whole-cane element coiled as a tight spiral.

Other Works of Craft

Rain Shields and Headgear: The knup is shaped like a hollow, shallow cone, with half the circumference of the base greatly elongated to terminate at a point. It is made in two layers, each woven in an open-hexagonal weave. In between the woven layers lie two layers of palm leaves; these provide water-proofing.

Winnowing Fan and Mud Shovel: Both of these are from Shillong. The warp elements in the winnowing fan are made from outer splints and are parallel to the axis of the fan. It is woven in the five-up-two down structure except at the vertical surface where it becomes a closer twill weave. In the mud shovel, concentric rectangular frames are formed by bending three outer bamboo splints that are placed close to each other, with the ends extending beyond the frame at one corner. Within this frame, a mat is plain-woven with outer splints of bamboo in an open-twill weave.

There are also lots of miscellaneous and domestic products such as shields made of bamboo splints by the Garos, the Khasi bamboo combs and pipes, etc.

Current Scenario

The arts and crafts of Meghalaya are an integral part of the state’s culture and continue to flourish to this day. It is made by the local tribal communities and is an important aspect of the tourism sector. Despite the difficulties such as extraction of bamboo and transportation, the people of Meghalaya come together to keep making these beautiful handicrafts which serve as both tradition and trade. They are sold on various platforms nowadays; for example, websites like acknowledge and promote such art work and skilled artists.

Picture Source: Outlook India