A rich heritage

Print edition : January 17, 2003

The Hornbill festival held in the first week of December shows that with its stunning natural beauty and great cultural traditions, Nagaland can offer a rich fare to tourists.

in Kohima

Dance performances by Naga tribal men at the Hornbill festival in Kohima.-PICTURES: RITU RAJ KONWAR

NAGALAND, with its diverse tribal culture, is a land of festivals. A narrow strip of mountainous territory with rugged hills, emerald valleys, sparkling streams and a rich variety of flora and fauna, the 16th State of the Indian Union has salubrious climate throughout the year. It is bounded by Assam in the west, Myanmar in the east, Arunachal Pradesh in the north and Manipur in the south. Sometimes referred to as the `Switzerland of the East', Nagaland represents unimaginable beauty, moulded perfectly for a breathtaking experience. For the adventurous, the State is an ideal place for trekking and jungle camping and offers limitless possibilities for exploring its lush sub-tropical rainforests, which are a treasure trove of medicinal plants. The 20-lakh-strong Naga people, by nature, are fun lovers, and life in Nagaland is one long festival.

Each of the 16 major tribes and many sub-tribes in the State has its own way of maintaining its distinctive cultural traditions and customs, through various forms of performing arts, which are an integral part of Naga festivals. Each of the tribal communities that dwell in the hills can be distinguished by the colourful and intricately designed costumes, jewellery and beads that its members wear. The traditional ceremonial attire of each tribe is different from that of the other. There are the multi-coloured spears and daos decorated with dyed goat's hair, the headgear made of finely woven bamboo interlaced with orchid stems and adorned with boar's teeth and hornbill's feathers, and ivory armlets. In the olden days, warriors had to prove their valour if they wanted to wear these.

In all her finery.-

Nagas are admired for their rich repertory of folk dances and songs. In spite of the tremendous advance of modernity into their lives, the Naga people have a penchant for vibrant dances and songs praising the brave deeds of ancient warriors and folk heroes, love songs that immoralise tragic love stories, gospel songs and folk tunes. Festivals are celebrated by the various tribes year around; during festivals villages become most lively. Most of the dances have a robust rhythm.

Displaying Naga ornaments.-

Festivals mainly revolve around agriculture, it being the mainstay of the economy. Over 85 per cent of the population of Nagaland is directly dependent on agriculture and lives in the 1,000-odd villages situated on hilltops or slopes overlooking verdant valleys. In this blissful setting, Nagas enjoy nature with a rare gusto that visitors to the State look at with awe and admiration. In most of these places agriculture consists of a single crop. Although some religious and spiritual sentiments are inter-woven into secular rites and rituals, the predominant theme of the festivals is the offering of prayers to a supreme being, which has different names in different Naga dialects. At these festivals, the gods are propitiated with sacrifices by the head of the village, for a bountiful harvest, either before sowing or on the eve of the harvest. In fact, agricultural work and religion are so interwoven in Naga society that it is difficult to describe the festivals independent of the processes of agriculture.

At their home in Kohima, a Naga couple showing the heads of deer that were hunted by their forefathers.-

Some of the important festivals celebrated by the tribes are Sekrenyi by the Angamis in February, Moatsu by the Aos in May, Tsukhenyie by the Chakhesangs in January, Aoling by the Konyaks in April, Mimkut by the Kukis in January, Bushu by the Kacharis in January, Tuluni by the Sumis in July, Nyaknylum by the Changs in July, Tokhu Emong by the Lothas in November and Yemshe by the Pochurys in October.

For encouraging inter-tribal cultural interaction and bringing together the festivals of the various tribes under one umbrella, the Government of Nagaland has evolved a festival called the Hornbill festival, where one can see a melange of Naga cultural displays at one place. Organised by the State Directorate of Tourism every year between December 1 and 5 in Kohima since 2000, the festival is intended to revive, protect and preserve the richness and uniqueness of the Naga heritage and attract tourists. The festival, in a way, is also a tribute to the hornbill, a bird most admired by the Naga people for its qualities of alertness and grandeur. This majestic bird is linked closely with the social and cultural life of the people, as is evident in tribal folklores, dances and songs. The awe and admiration for the bird is symbolically displayed on almost all traditional tribal headgears worn during festivities.

Nagaland Governor Shyamal Datta, while inaugurating the festival this year, lauded the rich Naga culture and tradition, saying: "Culture is immortal and invincible and the Hornbill festival presents the rich cultural diversity of the land." He said Nagaland had enormous potential for ecotourism.

Speaking on the occasion, Chief Minister S.C. Jamir reminded the people of Nagaland that unless peace was established in the insurgency-affected State, Nagaland would fail to progress and prosper. "The spectre of violence between various factions of our underground brothers, particularly the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), continues to haunt us. Threats, demands, extortion, rape and all kinds of anti-social activities are indulged in in the name of a political movement. As much as we condemn terrorism in other parts of the world, we also must put a stop to such trends in our State. The State also has an image of being a disturbed area and does not attract much outside investment as many agencies hesitate to come to Nagaland. The political problem remains unresolved and for which a lasting solution is to be found. The people are fed up of violence. They want peace in their land."

Jamir is, however, hopeful of a change in the situation. The Hornbill festival, he said, had already attracted national and international attention. "It has been successful in projecting the State as a unique tourist destination and in the process it is also celebrating the richness of the Naga cultural heritage. The tourism industry can boost the economy of the State at much lower environmental and financial cost. It can become the biggest job-creator and it can provide wide-ranging opportunities to our unemployed youth," he said.

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