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Op-Ed

A department remembered

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By EMN Updated: Oct 08, 2014 10:03 pm
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Khekiye K. Sema

Arts and Culture would be completing 50 years of its existence soon. I acknowledge their invitation to me to be a part of this small landmark timeframe to share my thoughts in their celebratory magazine publication as former Commissioner & Secretary of this Department. Since their magazine will necessarily not have a wide circulation for all to spend a small time of contemplation on the focused issues being raised, I am sharing it with all. Think about it)…
At the outset, a hearty congratulation to the Department of Arts and Culture for completing a half century of existence. Each and every staff and officer has contributed their equitable share to keep this departmental machinery moving forward. Without doubt, its presence has greatly sustained the cultural ethos and continuity within the diverse Tribal community such as ours. The cultural exchange programmes have greatly helped to enhance the awareness and image of the Nagas to the outside world in the realms of our unique customs and traditions. The upbeat requests for the participation of our cultural troupes by other States in their various cultural functions confirm the level of their appreciation. While Tourism is the host Department of the highly acclaimed Hornbill Festival, the credit is squarely attributable to the Department of Arts and Culture for the ‘cultural content’ of this event that has widely attracted the attention of the National and International community. Its contribution to the State has therefore, been a laudable one in these spheres. These are some of the positive aspects of the Department.50 years is a long time for introspection in order to learn lessons from it, if only to renew our focus for a meaningful improvement for the greater good of our posterity…so here follows the critical observation segment… all with good intentions.
With centuries gone by, the Nagas are still unable to determine our precise origin. It is an important perspective of our identity as a people. Our inability is suffocating, not having a definitive answer to these questions: Who are we?” or “where did we come from?” This was a subject that the Department had paid scant attention to when it all began and continues to overlook its importance, even today. What saddens me most is the fact that our first generation elders, who still had strong linkage with the remarkable oral history tradition, have carried on to the afterlife with all the repository knowledge of our past along with their interment. Imagine the wealth of authentic information that could have been salvaged in various diverse spheres, had this department prioritised this vision from the start and accordingly adopted a working policy as its mission statement over the years. We have lost a very valuable opportunity that can hardly be recalled. It is however pointless to be crying over spilt milk. We can still make good with what we have, if we put our minds to it.
With my takeover of this department in 2005, we opened a fresh chapter of Anthropological and Archaeological Research Project in partnership with the Anthropological Society of Nagaland, specifically funded through Chief Minister’s initiative. The Chief Minister promptly acknowledged the significance of the concerns I had shared with him and earmarked One Crore for this project, beyond our normal departmental budget. Since then, the dedicated Project team consisting of qualified Anthropologists and Archaeologists, have already submitted a very interesting and an exhaustive report of its first phase research findings relating to the “Cultural history, ethnography and physical characteristic of the Nagas of Nagaland” concerning a study on Naga Folk Narratives, Origin Myth and early Settlement and an even more exhaustive volume on the “Archaeological Investigation at Chungliyimti, in Tuensang District”. The Ao legend of ascribing their tribal origin as having emerged from Longtrok has been disproven as a myth by the physical evidence unearthed from the archaeological finds at Chungliyimti…the home of Longtrok. Such is the potentiality of archaeological excavation that reveals the reality. Their findings would require validation from the established personalities in these fields. However, no initiative seems to have been taken towards this end after my departure. Without being given a Departmental leadership, the second phase of this important research project is perhaps floundering, if it has not already faded away. This is an extremely regrettable scenario. This project must be revived and be given all the importance it deserves. It has the potential to open the door to our confidence as a people and place us on a better pedestal of self understanding.
The richness of our traditional values and the wonderful folklores and folk tales of our ancestors are all wasting away without a departmental effort to faithfully record the same. With the passage of time there is likelihood that it will all be forgotten forever to the detriment of our posterity. We made a small beginning by producing a couple of volumes titled: “Where Warriors Waltz- Festivals of the Nagas” followed up with “Fables from the Misty Mountains- Folklores of the Nagas” in an effort to capture the essence of the values systems of our ancestral past. It was intended to be a starter towards a continuous endeavour to catalogue the true characteristics of the Nagas and their authentic ancestral values, which has become all the more relevant in today’s context of a permissive society. This focus too seems to have been misplaced. It is understandable that the writing skill may not necessarily exist within the serving staffs and officers of the Department. This should however, not be perceived as an impediment. The department is well within its capability to harness the skills of others with the requisite writing capabilities, as we did, while producing the two volumes of publications. At the end of the day, it is these efforts that will leave behind a lasting footprint of the Department’s worthy existence and make positive contribution to the generations that will follow. There is no dearth on the variety of ethnic subjects that can well be dwelt upon about the Nagas, to have it committed in a written form. The only thing required is to understand the importance of this exercise, prioritise and work on it. Good luck for the future proceeding.

The writer is former Commissioner and Secretary, Department of Arts & Culture, Nagaland

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By EMN Updated: Oct 08, 2014 10:03:59 pm