Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The Great Hornbill Festival of Nagaland

Naga Warriors firing their guns, Kohima

The scene above was not a spontaneous meeting with a band of Naga warriors. It was one out of many performances from Kohima's annual Hornbill Festival in which members of all Nagaland's tribes come together just outside the capital to celebrate their respective and distinct cultural heritage. Every tribe is culturally and linguistically quite distinct from the others and the concept of Naga-ness is not very old at all. Prior to the British invasion the Nagas would identify themselves exclusively by their own tribe with no sense of shared identity with their neighbours. I have - with help from my Naga family - tried below to identify some of the tribes shown, but if I have gotten any of them wrong, I am sure a friendly blog visitor will enlighten me.

The event takes place in Kisima, which is an open-air museum of sorts, with full-scale versions of the houses of the different tribes of Nagaland. The organised performances take place on a big round amphi-theatre type field which is surrounded by hills where the houses are found. This first post will show some glimpses of the various performances which ranged thematically from militaristic displays of power and valour to courting couple's song and dances and even displays of traditional fire-making skills and agricultural techniques.

Although this festival is a fairly recent creation - I believe the first one was in 2000 - and attracts a fair deal of tourists (I saw about 50-100 foreign tourists there, which by Nagaland standards is a huge influx of tourists) the cool thing about this festival is that the participants themselves seem to enjoy the festival and show great interest in the other tribes' displays and performances. Everywhere you see the participants with their mobile phone cameras taking pictures of themselves and each other - and of the tourists. It is nice that this is an event which brings the Nagas together in shared celebration of their heritage.


A group of warriors (same groups as above) of the fierce Konyak tribe make their entrance onto the field

This was the leader of the group. Notice the tatoo's on his face. This guy is an old-school warrior. Not just dancing and prancing around for the sake of the spectators. He has seen actual combat!

Another tribe's young men perform a simulated battle - in this case without guns, only spears

Couples' dance from the Zeliang

Dancers in mid-air from the Sangtam tribe

Members of the Chakhesang tribe demonstrating how to make fire, without any matchsticks or lighters of course. It took them a few tries but they got it eventually.

Demonstrating a game in which you try to known down a row of stones by skipping a small rock at them using a certain technique

A view of the spectators. It's a mix of local (western dressed) Nagas from the Kohima area, foreign and Indian tourists and finally the biggest group of spectators: The other performing groups.

A group of adolescent boys of the Angami tribe sit in the audience

A group of Manipuri Nagas - ethnic nagas, who don't live in Nagaland but in the neighbouring state of Manipur
A boy, also Angami, with a spear and probably his grandfather sit in the audience, perhaps waiting for their turn to go on