Nagaland showcased the best of its culture at the recent Hornbill Festival

December spells out revelry for Nagas. It is not just Christmas alone. Just the other day, as the 16 major tribes and various other sub-tribes gathered in full force at the picturesque Naga heritage village, Kisama, 12kms from Kohima, donning their traditional finery, the scene looked a bit surreal. It had to be extraordinary. After all, the land of festivals was celebrating the ‘festival of festivals' — the annual Hornbill Festival organised by the State government of Nagaland. The festival — held in the first week of every December — was a veritable showcase of Naga life, it's past and present. We bring you here specks of its different aspects.

A peek at culture

With tourism and preservation of Naga culture as the top-most agenda of this annual affair, the Morung's exhibition is central to the festival. At the Naga heritage village, the morungs of 16 different Naga tribes — Sema, Lotha, Ao, Konyaks, etc — were replicated in the same way “as per the inhabited areas of Nagaland. So, a viewer is being taken to the actual tribal belts,” as put by Khekiye K. Sema, commissioner and secretary, Nagaland. The morungs, the traditional Naga bachelors' dormitories in Nagaland, served various purposes like guard houses, recreational clubs and education and art centres.

At the entrance of Angamis' ‘Kidi', men in their traditional costume — black skirt with shells embroidered on it, the headgear ‘Tsilla' made of bamboo and birds' feathers, carrying spears performed the stone-pulling ceremony singing “Ha ho”. The stone-pulling ceremony is a part of “Sekrenyi”, an important Angami festival celebrated in February with its aim being purification of men. “We don't have a morung but a ‘Kidi' which would be built by a powerful family only after it gave a feast of merit to the villagers. You won't find any other tribesmen in these skirts as it is specific to us,” says K.N. Sekhose, general secretary of Angami Public Organisation.

As many as 30 cultural troupes performed at this year's edition of the Hornbill Festival but the State government is getting more ambitious and plans to increase the number to 100 next year. While Korean troupes have been a regular at the fest, this year, Myanmar and Thailand made their debut with their cultural presentations while Japan opened its account with a performance by Japanese electronic band Yoichi Suzuki.

With Korean films being a hit with young Nagas and Korean fashion followed to the hilt, it was only appropriate that Korea was allotted an entire pavilion this time where visitors savoured Korean delicacies over their music and dance.

“We hope it will be one of the reputed forums within which South East Asian countries can participate in a bigger way,” said Sema. While the second day was reserved for the seven sisters of the North East, the remaining six days of the festival saw many tribes perform songs, dances, rituals and the customary games.

Overseas Naga Association (ONA)

Although the grand bamboo pavilion boasted a number of stalls selling a variety of products — handicrafts, shoes, wooden utensils, ornaments, food items, etc — the stall of ONA is worthy of a special mention. The recently formed ONA comprising Naga writers, musicians and artists like author Easterine Iralu, Senti Toy and others settled in different parts of the world, have come together in this forum to help the State and its residents.

“We will identify professional opportunities for young Naga people in different parts of the world. Also, we would want Nagas who were born outside, to visit their State and know their culture.

ONA was born out of a necessity to connect the Nagas scattered all over the world,” said Sethrichem Sangtam, youth coordinator, ONA. A music summit in Nagaland in 2011 is already on the cards, he added.

Music in the air

In the cold winter nights, the hills of Kisama warmed up to the music made by rock bands of not just the host State but the entire North East and the rest of the country.

Held under the banner of Hornbill Rock Contest, the event organised by the State's Music Task Force (MTF) saw 20 bands out of which nine finalists sweated it out for the lavish prize money of Rs.5 lakh.

The contest was a platform for young performers, aspiring singers, bands and even amateur singers. Set up by the State government, MTF, entrusted with the responsibility of assisting talented musicians in getting right kind of training and exposure, hunts for the bands in the 11 districts of Nagaland to compete in the festival.

“While working on adopting music as an industry, we realised the need for additional platform and exposure for the musicians and the rock festival was one of the steps,” said G. Sema, project director, MTF.

It is now in the process of setting up a music academy in the campus of Kohima Science College.

Teething problems

All's not well, rued Yitachu, MLA and parliamentary secretary, Tourism, Law and Justice, Nagaland. “We should get a fair number of domestic tourists but we are not. The negative image of Nagaland portrayed by some as being unsafe is affecting tourism,” he stated. Though there were travel packages specially for the festival, the result was not very satisfactory. Around 1000 tourists came to the State during the Hornbill Festival this time of which a sizeable chunk comprised foreigners.

The accommodation was another major problem, added Khekiye Sema, commissioner and secretary. “I ran out of space in Kohima. As a result, many troupes had to withdraw. There is not a single three-star hotel in entire Nagaland. We only have 300 decent liveable beds for the whole of Kohima against the minimum requirement of 1000-2000 beds,” he stated.