Still Playing with Dolls- Manipur artisan continues 100-year-old craft of Dollmaking

Taking a rather unremitting and stylish take on the century-old practice of doll making, Ibomcha Singh, 58 makes handcrafted barbies which are an integral part of the Manipur art and culture.

Commonly known as ‘Laiphadibi’ or ‘Laidhibi’, Manipuri dolls are made by older women from waste clothes, grass, and wires. The northeastern state of Manipur has always been richly immersed in art and culture and the Doll making goes back to hundred years.

Born in a family already disposed to a culture where his father Konsam Tona Singh had been a national awardee in the Dolls and Toys category and mother Konsam Ongbi Gambini Devi is the recipient of the national awardee for the famous ‘Kauna’ craft, an art of making handcrafted items from the water reed grass, Ibomcha Singh’ inherits the craft skills and has modified the traditional ways a bit to make the dolls more durable and to get a uniform surface.

The dolls are made with dried grass and are given shapes with thin wires and then they are glued with a cloth. Painting is done after they are smeared with clay and fine powder of grass and are dried in the sun.

Ibomcha Singh’s wife works alongside him in the process of doll making by stitching beautifully embellished attires with different fabrics for the dolls. Ibomcha Singh has a variety of dolls in his collections starting from Manipuri soldier dolls, tribal dancers, women performing household duties, and more. Since it’s a laborious process, each doll takes about a week to be ready therefore he charges the dolls from Rs. 1000. One can get the address to his place from anybody in the market.

As per tradition, there goes folklore that these dolls have feelings, and children were told to keep the dolls safely tucked in the baskets or they would wail the entire night under the banana plant and walk away. This technique is alike the techniques used in the making of the clay idols of deities in West Bengal and other states.

Image by Konsam Ibomcha Singh

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