The ten-day Hornbill Festival in Nagaland displays how, despite being Christians, the Nagas uphold the traditional Naga values and simpleton virtues
The most complex challenge in sociological study about any community is to understand its present predicament and also predict the same people’s future. It is more so for the Nagas. They are in a psychic tug of war – to be with militancy movement opposing Indian nationhood or to be protagonists of nationalism and cherish the benefits of development and peace – the Indian democracy offers.
There is also another set of complexities – the cultural. They are Christians in every sense of the term and yet upholding the traditional Naga values and simpleton virtues. The 10-day long cultural bonanza Hornbill Festival is one such important facet. The sociological complexities actually find reflection in the manner the grand festivities are undertaken virtually with the nod of all stake holders—the village chiefs, the state governments, the professionals, youth organisations, the women groups and traders and businessmen. “Nagas are Christians, perhaps 99 per cent if not 100. Yet they have remained traditional to the core cherishing good old traditional values, simplicity, the warmth and hospitality and also the virtues of onetime animism,” says a local teacher Kaito Sumi.
The ‘Stone Pulling ceremony’ by Angamis was an important festival of the Angami Naga Tribe organised as part of the 10-day long tourism bonanza – which is graced by hundreds of tourists, travel writers, music lovers and foodies from across India and the rest of the globe. A German-origin academician Petra Schhiler, 32, was one such enthusiastic participant. “As a student of anthropology, I have turned a neo-admirer of the Angami culture after participating in the Stone Pulling celebrations,” says she adding that she has put up in a Barabasti near Kohima township and is “enjoying the Naga boiled food occasionally with egg and the local rice beer”.
In all that she says and the Stone Pulling ceremony – that was graced by state Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and Union Tourism Minister KJ Alphons, also a Catholic Christian from Kerala, in effect – everything is traditional and nothing about Christianity. Yet the amalgamation seems to be unique and very smooth. So, the strong influence of Christianity could not really dampen the Naga spirit to uphold the rich tradition.
Bison heads, tigers, elephants, hornbills and several other animal motifs symbolise variously favoured human traits like valour, fertility and graciousness. The Hornbill as a motif actually symbolises status, power and royalty. The Stone Pulling Ceremony is linked to merry making of fun loving Nagas and also reflects the Naga sense of unity of purpose; hard-work and bravery.
Hence, a large 16 tonne heavy and 20 metre long monolith was taken to nearby Chiephobozou Village - at a distance of 3.5 km – from Chechema village. Thousands joined the show and a large number of locals in traditional attire – men and women - were seen dancing to the rhythm of the drum beats and native war-songs even as hundreds sat cross legged with coffee coloured dry mud all across their feet along both sides of the roads to witness the momentous occasion. It took four hours to complete the task.
This year’s Stone Pulling fest was also unique in Northern Angami region as the Angami Youth Organisation (AYO) celebrates 25 years of its formation, locals said. “Nagas are truly modern with high rate of English speaking and reading ability and yet they are with their ancient dynamics. The present generation has successfully stepped into the modernity and today’s high skilled fashion industry producing the fabrics that represent the amalgamation of ancestral motifs and modern appeal,” says a French tourist L. Josphine (48). “Tourism is our new catalyst of development. We have to develop all its potentials,” says a local tour-cab and hotel operator Medo Zavikol in Kohima.
In terms of issues before the state government, locals as well as the visitors say the Neiphiu Rio-led NDPP-BJP government has lot to do. “We expect him to do miracles in improving the conditions of roads,” says French tourist Josphine adding,” Next time, I will come when we have good roads here”. But the local Nagas say things are moving fast especially under the new dispensation led by Shri Rio, who has a good working relation with the central BJP leadership. “Mr Rio is a successful politician. He has survived more than a decade as a Chief Minister and this year changed the course of politics within three weeks. Now the onus is on him to sit together with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and write a new chapter of development for the state,” says Charles Sangtam, a Catholic and an entrepreneur.
For his part, Chief Minister seems to appreciate the problems and aspirations of his people pretty well. Therefore, into this critical phase of his tenure as Chief Minister after making a comeback in the elections earlier this year, Rio has focused his administration on developmental works including improvement in roads, water and power projects and also a much ambitious airport at Kohima. “In more ways than one the new airport will change the face of our economy. Prime Minister Modiji has accepted the project in principle. It can help sell our products. Cargos can operate,” he says.
On a different and political plane now, how is he going for BJP in Christian-dominated and tribal stronghold Nagaland. To be more precise, do Nagas think BJP holds a threat to the Nagas and their faith in Christianity? “Nagas want peace and development,” says Ranjeet Kumar Thapa, a Gorkhali but settled in Nagaland’s commercial township Dimapur and hence he says: “If BJP can deliver development and address issues of people’s concerns, the Naga people have no objection to the party”.
It goes without saying that BJP’s acceptability in Nagaland – compared to what was the scene even during Atal Behari Vajpayee’s stint - has increased manifold. Politically, BJP won 12 seats out of only 20 it contested in the February polls. According to a political science student Amenla Ao, “In effect, most Nagas are not bothered much about BJP’s supposed pro-Hindutva image. Elections are won or lost by candidates. Even BJP nominees who won the February polls were judged by their individual credentials and political acumen”.
Kouley Angami, a resident of Chechema village on Kohima-Wokha state highway endorses her views. Kouley further says: “I am one of the last men to agree the view that BJP is in power in Nagaland simply on the strength of it being in power in Delhi. It is more than that. It has something to do with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal popularity too”. “We Nagas have seen many Prime Ministers, but we appreciate Prime Minister Modi for his Swachh Bharat Abhiyan...This Clean India mission is truly a people's movement,” he says.
(The writer is a freelance journalist)