Views & Reviews
A Critique on Naga, Bird, and Festival
The Nagas are a group of people who originated from central Asia and migrated through Mongolia, China, and Myanmar to their current location. They occupy the region between Rivers Chindwin in Myanmar and Brahmaputra in India. The Nagas primarily inhabit inaccessible deep forests and hills, where they live in isolation and establish independent village-states. However, they are in constant conflict with other ethnic groups, tribes, and villagers, as no concept of Nagaism holds them together. Nagaism or Naga nationalism developed after World War I with the organisation of the famous Naga Club, which included the non-Nagas living within the predominantly Naga-inhabited areas. After that, they submitted a representation to the Simon Commission in 1929, requesting the British Imperialists to grant independence to all Nagas, independent of any other nations or states, when they relinquish their rule over the subcontinent, as they were before the advent of the British Empire. After India and Myanmar gained independence, some Nagas resided in India, and a larger population lived in Burma. This division has resulted in the unresolved Naga problems inherited by both countries as a legacy of British colonial rule.
The hornbill bird is significant for the Naga tribes due to its rarity and majestic appearance. While highly valued for its meat and prized quill, used for decoration during critical festive occasions, the bird was not worshipped or venerated beyond its practical use. Despite the availability of other bird species with equally beautiful and colourful feathers, the hornbill remained the most popular choice for adornments on clothing, headwear, and accessories.
Festivals were integral to the Naga culture and were celebrated enthusiastically throughout the year. Every Naga tribe marks the arrival of a new season by organising a festival. However, the involvement and preparations for each festival may vary from season to season, tribe to tribe, and even from village to village. A typical Naga villager’s worldview is rooted in their village rather than their tribe, which outsiders assign. During festivals, villagers enjoy specially prepared food and drinks, including meat, and gather to commune with one another. Feasts were provided by wealthy individuals or from a shared pool of village funds, divided into khels, clubs, and lineages with common properties such as paddy fields, forests, and jhumfields. Festivities include merry-making, dancing, singing, and participating in sports and games. Older adults often conduct storytelling sessions. They shared stories from their ancestors, ensuring the accuracy of their village’s oral history.
The Nagas have a unique way of celebrating traditional festivals by integrating them with their love for the bird hornbill. Hence, the Hornbill Festival called ‘The Festival of Festivals’. The potent concoction can confuse the senses of those partaking in the festivities. Nagaland has successfully promoted its culture and traditions globally, but it is short-lived and lasts only a few days. Despite the publicity, the state government has to bear the economic and administrative burden of organising the mega event. The government’s most competent officers work tirelessly before, during, and after the event, causing temporary paralysis and disruption to the administration.
Is it still viable to continue the Hornbill Festival in its current form every year? Or should we explore new ideas to enhance its efficiency and economic benefits? One possible solution could be outsourcing the festival to reputable private companies while fully allowing the state government to participate in the opening and closing ceremonies. Additionally, relocating the popular events to different parts of the state could alleviate traffic problems in Kohima and provide easier access to visitors and organisers, thereby sharing the burden of organising it and the economic gains from the Hornbill Festival with other cities and towns. During the festival, Kohima cannot meet the required quality and quantity of accommodation and civil amenities. Being more familiar with the state’s reputation and the needs of its inhabitants and visitors, the state government could better address these issues.
IPS, Retd. DGP