There is a stark contrast between the portrayal of Naga culture at the Hornbill Festival, and what it is on a daily lived basis. Can there be an alternative to the Hornbill Festival that celebrates the daily lives of Naga people? (Morung Photos)
After the Hornbill Festival 2018, once we are done with the dances and the songs, the fashion shows and the concerts, the night markets and the eating, we will wrap up the tent, clean up the streets, and forget about it. Of course, until the next preparatory season. What if we began to dream and envision an alternative Hornbill Festival for 2019? What if we chose not to turn Naga culture into an entertainment show for ten days for tourists? What if we focused on ourselves and decided to slow down, planned to really have the time of our lives – just for ourselves?
Let me offer a proposal for an alternative Hornbill Festival for the future.
To begin with, let us discourage any kinds of photographic devices. No mobile phones, no cameras, and absolutely no videos. Then, the next thing is to request tourists not to expect entertainment in Nagaland between 1st December and 10th December. If they do come, they should be willing to participate in the everydayness of our lives. Fetch water, feed the chickens and the pigs, learn to find their way in the dark during power failures, massage their joints after travelling on roads filled with potholes, cover their faces like ninjas when a cloud of dust envelopes their bodies, and learn to sigh when all kinds of mobile phone networks fail. Living as local Naga people do, these are the bare necessities to survive in Nagaland throughout the year.
There is a spirit of excitement whenever the Hornbill Festival season approaches. Our beloved Naga public murmurs that the government will “at least” repair the potholes and paint the streets because tourists will soon arrive to watch Naga culture and enjoy our beautiful state. Since the Hornbill Festival started more than a decade ago, the importance given to tourists is impressive. But it is also strange that over the years we have seldom reflected what this festival has done for the people. The government of Nagaland might use this festival for showcasing the cultural capital of Naga society, yet it is time to slow down and figure out who benefits from these breathless ten days? What are we trying to sell? With a state that has a crumbling infrastructure and a dysfunctional ongoing ceasefire negotiation, we seem to forget that this festival takes place in a society that is highly militarized and divided. This division, among other things, is seen in the increasing gap between an extremely wealthy Naga elite and a large population that struggles to find employment and lives in poverty.
In the existing reality of our society, why do we need a festival to showcase Naga culture through dances and songs alone? I suggest that we celebrate Hornbill Festival differently in the future. Instead of showing hospitality to tourists, let us invite our neighbours, villages, people from the district headquarters, from the urban and the rural areas. Let us celebrate the spirit of the extraordinary Naga who does mundane things in order to survive. Let us celebrate the widow who lives alone and wakes up every morning to help out in the village; let us celebrate the son who looks after his parents; let us celebrate the daughter who works in spas and retail stores to send money back to her family; let us celebrate the father who puts his children to bed; let us celebrate the mother who sells vegetables in the market; let us celebrate the sibling who keeps the best pieces of chicken for the youngest; let us celebrate the neighbour who volunteers to help in every funeral; let us celebrate the pastor who prays for the poor and visits the sick (for free); let us celebrate the youth who seek to live a dignified life and seek jobs in faraway places to fulfil their dreams; let us celebrate the teacher who decides to stay on in her original place she has been posted to; let us celebrate the government doctors who choose to stay in a rural hospital and serve; let us celebrate a politician who struggles to be ethical; let us celebrate the journalists who look out for stories of the powerless; let us celebrate authors and poets who write with courage and wisdom; let us celebrate the children in orphanages who study hard and dare to dream; and finally let us celebrate those who try to reconcile our difficult past and hope for a Naga future where justice, peace, and dignity become the foundation of our culture. Imagine the gathering of such extraordinary Nagas.
The author is from Dimapur.
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