Men folk adorning colourful head gears attending the ten-day ongoing Hornbill Festival at Kisama, Kohima. (Morung Photo by Soreishim Mahong)
“From time immemorial…” the elders say, Nagas were everything they aren’t today. They seem to imagine a halcyon past and an evil present. There appears to be a space in between the two time frames that is empty instead of igniting the other. The Hornbill Festival is a reflection of a reality that celebrates the past but rarely bothers with the present as informed by an envisioned future. The major issue is with the question of whether values are being transmitted from one time to another as an outcome of the Hornbill Festival. This, I believe addresses the essence, not the external form.
Today in its 18th year Hornbill Festival is promoted by the Government as the “window to Nagaland.” But I see it as a window of opportunity for the government as well as the people of Nagaland. It’s only a matter of making it a more seriously thought-out organization than being heavily invested in logistical arrangements. Over the years, its annual success is usually measured by the number of visitors, local and otherwise, it attracts. For a festival that runs for 10 straight days, merely concentrating on its promotional value and income generation that leaves the general populace poorer is a huge waste of time and resources. With the start of mini-hornbills in every district coinciding with the tribe festivals, the Government can do a lot more in presenting Naga history and heritage in a more meaningful manner. Below are some practical thoughts in bridging the past and the present.
Focused Theme: The Hornbill Festival needs to be organized around a yearly theme that is concerned with improving the overall lives of the people of Nagaland (instead of being satisfied with something that appears more like a tagline). Some years it can focus on peacebuilding, another year on gender parity, one year around flora and fauna, and another year on ecology and natural heritages. All songs, dances, games and others can be done around the theme. For instance, in the year on celebrating natural heritages, relevant district offices can provide all necessary assistance to potential visitors to track the significant forests, rivers, hills and mountains in their respective areas. This will ensure that Hornbill Festival benefits the whole state and not only be confined to Kisama in particular and Kohima in general. Likewise, in the year that focuses on gender parity, let women be given maximum opportunity. Let there be women dignitaries/chief guests from around the world, all-women traditional dance troupes, all-women/girls band competition, only-girls traditional games and other items etc. Organizing the event around a focus theme will naturally create enthusiasm in the tourist as well as the local people – audience and participants alike. It will also empower of all sections of society, promote social consciousness, and encourage creativity in the participants and sure enough the visitors will not have to sit through performances that all sound and look the same everyday, every year! It will also possibly motivate visitors to come for more.
Building Culture of Productivity: The Hornbill Festival has managed to open ways for individual to make a living. This is a good thing. Homes and small businesses seem to make good profit during the season. The question of sustainability is a genuine concern for those who put in substantial amount of resources to provide service during the festival period. The relevant department/s can continue to plan events throughout the year so that Nagaland stays alive throughout the year. In doing so, the Heritage Village can also be utilized to its maximum. It is a waste to simply rent out the facility for few occasions. The more regularly it is used, the more it will generate income for the Government as well as for individual and communities. The general Naga youth seem to be caught up in a sluggish time; most are still dependent on parents despite their bachelor’s and master’s degrees. It’ll be easier to ask for the moon than for the Government to accommodate even half of the degreed youth into the state service. But obviously, most of them do not want to leave their homeland for jobs elsewhere. This inclination can be turned to an advantage with the sincere effort of the government to create opportunities to earn a decent living by making use of the available facilities and initiating ongoing programs. Why must it be that night bazaars are open only for few days in a year? Isn’t it heartwarming that the Naga youth are joyfully operating their stalls during the festivals? Giving them a space to keep themselves busy is a good way of helping them to imbibe a culture of hard work. Consequently, they will learn to be innovative and become valuable assets to the entire society.
Originality: This will inculcate the value of going original rather than simply mimicking those in other parts of the world – whether Asian or Western. Even the Hornbill Rock Contest must emphasize on originality. Why award lakhs of rupees to the best copy-cat!? Our ancestors did not imitate other cultures, except for the natural world. Out of the sounds of the birds, streams, trees and nature they learnt to create music, musical instruments, dances and words. Access to technology today is no excuse to let the mind stop working!The value of creating something out of one’s own mind far surpasses the best work of imitation. Insisting on originality by the organizers will encourage participants to rely on their inner selves rather than in wanting to be someone else. It’ll also naturally instill positive self-pride.Although originality is more than being rooted in one’s culture, it is also an essential part of it.The idea of “Made in Nagaland”(I see it as a tagline – great for the Hornbill Festival itself) is a move in the right direction if applied not only to handicrafts but also to other creative works – including music, art and literature. Being a good platform to promote indigenous Naga heritages, artistes that are already promoting Naga-centric works and those with potential to do so must be accorded privilege and due recognition. For that matter, it would be a noble thing to even institute an award for promotion of Naga heritage during the festival!
Access to Tourist Sites: Several historical and natural tourist sites within Nagaland are yet to be made accessible to visitors. One of the hindrances is the road condition leading to such locations. A trip to one of the important historical sites in Tuensang made me realize that the “journey” in the search for history and knowledge is less a pleasure and more a gamble with life itself. The steep terrain along a long winding dirt road is certainly not encouraging for many who would certainly benefit from a physical visit to the site. Even the highway leading to the Doyang River – supposedly a tourist destination –and the roads leading to the neighboring Amur Falcon villages – are in pathetic condition. Slush is summer and dust in winter seems to describe Nagaland roads in general. Good roads are essential to productive living – economically and socially. The hospitality of the locals, good food, good natural environment, and tourism created jobs are meaningless blabber if the Government does not prioritize the availability of good roads to every nook and cranny of Nagaland. It just needs a political will to materialize that which today is an unwritten fundamental right of every modern citizen.
Public Christian Witness: Nearly 100% of Nagas of Nagaland, except for a small minority that practice primal religions (0.16% – 2011), officially identify themselves a Christians. This is a unique reality when placed within a global scenario. But this fact also leaves everyone, including the organizing authority of the Hornbill Festival and mini Hornbill Festivals, with a religious duty. Evangelization during the event/s is not the implied intention but whatever contradicts Christians’ public witness must be conscientiously addressed. During the Hornbill Festival road accidents are reported in higher numbers than usual. Could the chief factor be the uncontrolled consumption of local brews – Zu and Rohi? Should its sale, against the law, be allowed or should it have some level of control?Also, the prices of regular products become unreasonably high. Should greed cloud our better Christian judgment? Should a policy of price-check be in place to safeguard our corporate faith testimony? What about the performances? Most of the traditional songs and dances glorify warfare that includes head-hunting. Can the Christian message of peace and reconciliation be promoted instead, although the style can remain traditional? Can the artistes coming from villages be provided better clothing? I sympathize with those male traditional performers who have to either bare their buttocks or make do with worn out briefs. Can the organizers be mindful of their God-given dignity before they decide to make them like museum objects?Finally, what about our public acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty and grace in Jesus Christ? Must Hornbill Festival be perceived as so detached from divine providence that God no longer seems relevant? Does Christian identity follow us only to the church and not beyond? What is so shameful in daily invoking, praising and thanking the God to whom we owe our very own existence!? An ancient theological wisdom is a good reminder: “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3: 6).
Dr Eyingbeni Hümtsoe-Nienu teaches Christian doctrines and feminist theologies at Clark Theological College, Mokokchung. She is the author of God of the Tribes: Christian Perspective on the Naga Ancestral Idea of the Supreme Being among others. The opinion expressed herein is entirely that of the author’s.