This is a story of the time when humans first walked the earth. And in those days they did not wear clothes, for they did not know how to weave cloth.
One day, the god Matai decided to teach the art of weaving to one person. The god taught a girl called Hambrumai. And what were the designs the girl wove? She sat by the river side and saw the ripples and circles made by water. She wove the ripple pattern on cloth.
She spent days in the forest looking up at trees and the designs made by their branches. She saw patches of the sky between branches and wove in all those designs on cloth. She saw nature’s patterns very clearly, be it in trees, water, flowers, or leaf. When she wore the cloth she wove, it was as if she was clothed in nature. She was beautiful. And many young men wanted to marry her.
One day, Hairum, the Porcupine, came to her cave to steal her cloth. As he tried to get inside the cave, he pushed a rock. The rock fell by the riverside, and crushed Hambrumai. It also broke the loom on which she used to weave cloth.
Parts of the loom fell into the river. They were carried by the water in its journey from the hills to the plains. Wherever people found a part of the loom, they learnt to weave. The Mishimis believe that the designs Hambrumai made, became butterflies.
To this day the patterns on butterflies’ wings carry the designs the girl made. And people remember Hambrumai to this day as the girl who taught the world to weave.
A folk tale of the Mishimis of north east India, retold from ‘When the World was Young’, by Verrier Elwin. The book is a fascinating collection of folktales from the tribal peoples of India. Elwin was a pioneering anthropologist; he spent his entire life getting to know the ways of life of the tribal peoples.