Imaging the Hornbill Festival

Dr Asangba Tzüdir

Within the ‘imaging’ and ‘texting’ of the Nagas by the outside world, there is the danger of the ‘Naga text’ being missed or placed out of context within a misconstrued representation of the ‘almost forgotten past.’


During a recent group interaction, the Curator of Ethnological museum in Berlin, Germany, had some photos of Naga artifacts and costumes to transport the group to the past lived world of the Nagas. The excitement of going back to the past was short lived as the photos were without captions or descriptions, and it was difficult to locate most of the photos in its proper context. Contextually, it was not exactly a journey to a forgotten past but more so, to an unknown past.


Within this strain, comes the colorful Hornbill Festival which is being held primarily to showcase Naga traditional culture and heritage. Now into its 19th edition, the festival has blossomed over the years into a mega state event starting from food to tribe specific Morungs, folk songs and dance performances, artifacts, and a horde of games like Naga Chilli eating competition, chasing pig, greased bamboo pole climbing, etc.


The context of ‘Naga modernity’ is such that all these events are somehow overshadowed by music and rock concerts, fashion and art, not to mention the ‘comical’ parade of the Second World War motor rally, which is indeed an offense to the solemn message “For your tomorrow, we gave our today.” Within such colors, the Hornbill Festival tries to capture various kinds of audiences especially the tourists. And merely going by the number of visitors on the first two days, 19,953 and 43,079 respectively, and if the number is to be believed, then the festival is already a big hit. More often, the number of visitors has become the parameter to define the success (or failure) of the Hornbill Festival.


To suit the changing times and tastes, the cultural shows and the various events come with a blend of tradition and a “westoxified” modern. Within this blending, a new understanding of ‘Naga Culture and lifestyle’ is presented to the outside world through ‘texts’ and ‘images.’ Further, the Hornbill Festival has opened a window to the commercially escapist world of Naga culture which finds tilted towards ‘deceptive style’ and opportunistic capitalism including ‘commodification’ of humans. In this process, the Naga cultural ‘narrative’ gets fitted into the ‘hornbill narrative’, which is nowhere close to being considered as a marker of Naga cultural identity, and thereby produces a ‘misrepresented real’ through the material display, so do the captured images for ‘pleasurable consumption’ of the ‘others’ which is more often used to reinforce stereotypes.


Coming back, it is definitely a painful experience in not being able to place the Naga cultural past in context as testified by the photos being displayed in the museum abroad, even as another wave of ‘imaging’ and ‘texting’ is happening presently. And the Hornbill Festival in its present avatar, does not, in any way, serve as an imagery to reawaken their ‘forgotten past’ or, more painfully, their ‘unknown past.’


Even as the distance from the past gets longer in time and space, Nagas, as a cultural people, are slowly getting reduced to an ‘imagined community.’



(Dr. Asangba Tzudir contributes a weekly guest editorial to The Morung Express. Comments can be mailed to