P. Achumse Yingbithongrü | Kiphire | July 3: Sanphure, a Sangtam Village located 30 km from Kiphire town is known for its indigenous practice of salt harvesting during ancient days. The salt produced from Sanphure village is believed to have medicinal value. This village was a booming commercial centre as people, far and near, particularly from Kiphire, Zunehaboto and Tuensang district came to buy salt.
How Salt is harvested
In the village, salt is harvested from natural flowing water in springs. Another method employed includes channelling the water underground, digging a well and separating the water from the salt through the use of a contraption made of bamboo straws and leaves.
The wells in the latter method are usually 3 to 12 ft in depth and 2 to 4 ft in diameter depending on the location. Sieved ash collected from households mixed with tree bark is also used to cement the edge of channel, helping in the separation of the salt from water.
Once saline water reaches the well, a hollow log is inserted over a round salt stone, in which there is a small hole for salt to flow out. Then salt is collected and processed.
Varieties of Salt
There are three varieties of salt made in Sanphure, with differing shapes and sizes. The first, purely for commercial purpose, is called ‘Amalakpu;’ the second variety is ‘Kala,’ which is used as a symbol of friendship and in challenges; and the third is ‘Tere,’ which is made only for specific occasions. The last variety is used as gift for treaties and to build better relationships amongst communities.
After 50 years
Feeling the urgency to revive the practice of indigenous practice of salt harvesting, which is closely associated with Sangtam culture and tradition, a committee has been specifically formed in the village to oversee and encourage the younger generation to master the art of salt making and at the same keeping the culture, history and tradition alive.
Narrating why indigenous salt harvesting came to a grinding halt for the past 50 years, Head GB I. Thsipenthe said “during ancient time people from place like Tuensang and Zunehaboto came to the village to buy salt as Sanphure was the only place producing salt. However, with the coming of British and Indians, salt production slowed down as we could not compete with the technology produced salt.”
“We stop producing salt for many decades, but last year, to preserve and conserve our forbearers ancient knowledge and wisdom we decided to clean up all old ancient salt brim as the practice of ancient salt harvesting practice was slowly becoming extinct, otherwise, younger generation will never know the rich culture and history of our ancestors.”
Elders of the village Sepikyu said with the advent of technology and availability of commercial salt, traditional means of making salt have lost its taste.
The people of the village feels that to compete in the market and conserve the traditional salt harvesting, new techniques should be adopted, with this a balance between traditional and modern techniques can be achieved, thereby ensuring that the respected customs of salt making do not lost its flavour with time, they asserted.
The modern economic system has penetrated indigenous societies, affecting traditional economic system to varying degree. Indigenous knowledge and practices are under increasing pressure with globally-defined system of development.
At such a juncture, the villagers feel that it would be of critical help to the salt harvesting farmers if government provide assistance to enable them to not only be self sustaining but preserve and conserve the ancient craft of salt harvesting.
In order to help sustain the traditional salt harvesting, a researcher from Tata Samvaad is also assisting the farmers and carrying out research study to augment the problem faced by the farmers.