Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Ancestral Village

Ceremonial Log Drum, Longmisa Village in Nagaland

In India, most city dwellers have an ancestral village to which they trace their lineage, sometimes countless generations ago. My wife Nitoli - coming from a tribal community - is certainly no exception. Since she is the outcome of an inter-tribe marriage there are two different ancestral villages, but ties are much more recent to her maternal ancestral village of Longmisa belonging to the Ao tribe in central Nagaland.

It's been a long time since any of Nitoli's family lived in the village - her grandparents left when they were young in favour of greater economic opportunity in the district capital of Mokokchung. Nevertheless the family's ties to the village are still strong and in fact we have gotten a couple of nannies for our son Valdemar from the village. It's a great way for us to find someone who is known to the family and can be trusted to take good care of the baby, while the young girls get a good chance to experience the big world beyond the village.

Since we were going to Mokokchung to visit family for Christmas, we decided to throw in a visit to the ancestral village. It's a fairly standard Naga village, but a lot of fun to see where Valdemar's great grand parents ran around as kids - and I also wanted to meet a local shaman who is believed to have "tiger spirit". This concept is a remnant from Nagaland's pre-Christian animist beliefs and is still held in high regard even amongst those who have long since converted to Christianity.

Those with tiger spirit are believe to have their fate tied completely to the fate of a tiger living in nature. They will wake up with blood in their mouths in mornings after their tiger has made a kill. And if the tiger dies, then so do they very shortly thereafter. They are also believed to be able to summon the tiger at will, and the shaman promised us that we would see his tiger on our drive back from Longmisa to Mokokchung. Sadly the tiger didn't show up, and we were later told that it was due to abnormally high degrees of traffic on the stretch scaring away the tiger (which had however, observed us from its hiding place).

Longmisa Village occupies a hill-top, which is standard in Nagaland. Nowadays the Church is always the dominating building

Preparations for Christmas taking place in the village main church

During the Christmas season every Christian house hold raises a red star over their house

One of the few remaining non-Christians: The Shaman with Tiger Spirit

Typical Longmisa house partially built on wooden stilts to manager the hilly terrain

Nitoli's niece Alovi taking a walk down Longmisa's main street which is the only paved street here

A beautiful old lady who asked me to take her picture. A few months later her granddaughter Likok, came to work for us as an au pair and she is still with us today, a year later. We were not aware of the family relation before Likok saw this picture on my computer.

Having lunch in the house of the village committee chairman. I love the wooden flooring, but unfortunately there is  not much prestige in this kind of house, with the preference going towards less comfortable and more expensive concrete house

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Shillong's Arrows of Outrageous Fortune

Khasi archers, Shillong

Most types of gambling are illegal in India, but in Meghalaya's capital Shillong betting on archery is a tradition, which is practised completely openly everywhere in the town and even other parts of the state.

The archery contests take place every afternoon year round. We had been to Shillong before and seen most of the sights, but somehow didn't make it to the archery so we made sure to catch the action this time around, en-route from Cherrapunjee.

The archery arena in Shillong. The archers are always seated and place in a half-circle around the target

In reality the gambling on archery is nothing more than a disguised lottery. Although there are two teams of archers that do compete against each other in some sort of tournament structure, the bets are not about picking winners or losers of this contest. Rather you must guess the last digit(s) of the number of arrows that hit the target, something on which there seem to be no rational basis to hold one outcome as more likely than another making this type of betting a game of pure chance.

For instance if a total of 612 arrows hit the target, you would win if you played 2 as the last digit (giving you close to 10 times your money back) or 12 as the last two digits (giving you close to 100 times your money back). According to my memory the odds are pretty good, as they are close to being even to the likelihood of the outcome. However, the receipts confirming your bet are very small and easy to loose, so I suspect the bookmakers have a higher level of earnings from lost or forgotten winning slips, rather than from the margins built into the odds.

Eyeing the Target
Large sums change hands and even from other states and abroad significant sums are gambled, primarily by locals who have moved out of the Meghalaya. People with mobile phones will convey the results immediately to the anxiously waiting gamblers.

Any tourists visiting Shillong should consider spending an hour for this uniquely Meghalayan event. Any person in town should be able to explain the way to the archery range. 

Towards the end of the contest the target becomes filled with arrows making it look like an over-utilized pin cushion
There are both young and old archers, but the seniors do seem to be in majority

Collecting the arrows for counting is a major, time consuming task

Several old-timers help in on the collection

The coloured tips of each arrow make it possible to identify the archer, thereby making it possible to determine the wining team and also reveal the contributions of the individual team members

First the arrows are sorted according to colour (and thereby team)

Then the arrows are grouped into bunches of ten and then hundred to count the total number. Many eyes observe to insure against any miscounts or deliberate attempts at manipulation
Finally the results will be announced to the waiting crowd including archers and gamblers

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Cliffs of Cherrapunjee Revisited

Nohkalikai Falls near Cherrapunjee

On the way back from our trip to the living bridges we had the welcome chance to revisit the beautiful cliffs of Cherapunjee, which we visited 3 years earlier in 2006. Still looks about the same as last time, but none the less impressive for that reason.

Cliffs just outside Cherrapunjee Town. This is one of the wettest places on earth, although vast majority of this rain falls in monsoon season. You can literally see the traces of the water masses in the landscape, even several months after monsoon season

(We visited Cherrapunjee on 21 December 2009)