What is The Hornbill Festival?

Imlisanen Jamir

Coming from ‘The Land of Festivals,’ a mere concert, albeit a big one, held a mere 300 kilometers from where I live, should not have been too overwhelming nor conflicting.


It was the Meghalaya edition of the NH 7 Weekender Festival 2017, held on October 27 and 28 in Jowai, about 68 kilometers from Shillong, where we made camp. Given the conditioning that we’ve had towards road travel, just the distance to the venue gave rise to pangs of concern. Again, it was a bit too early to feel concerned; before we had even set off for the venue.


However, the experience on our way to, and at the venue, for two whole days, burst any bubble that might have developed in our minds; built up through the tags that we’ve given ourselves.


It’s the ‘Land of Festivals’ that we live in, and it is also the time of year when a steady flow of advertisements and brochures exhibit the image of Nagaland as a place filled with happy, dancing, festive people. And for us, this exposition does not get any bigger than The Hornbill Festival, which in its present form, enters its 18th edition this year.


Love it or hate it, The Hornbill Festival is here to stay; and it has put the state on the map to a certain extent. There are people, many in fact, that know about Nagaland solely because of the coverage that this festival has garnered.


As we bid goodbye to The Weekender Festival and made our way home, a thought occurred. Do visitors to ‘our’ biggest festival leave with the same sense of definitive satisfaction and relish?


Yes, the analogy is based on a thin link, as Weekender is solely a music festival, with major corporate sponsor logos overwhelming the senses. On the other hand, Hornbill is an immensely para-statal affair, disguised as a community endeavor to promote tourism and showcase Naga culture.


Criticism has been levied over the years, ranging from concerns that the event acts more as a museum showcase; or that it has become a platform to showcase the state’s version of what Naga culture is. Further, we are yet to reach a holistic fusion of the modern and the traditional, which The Hornbill Festival claims to embody.


Now, these are no easy obstacles to overcome. And ahead of this year’s edition, a meeting chaired by the state Chief Minister discussed ways to take the festival forward. This reportedly involved deliberations on holding the festival in an environmentally conscious manner; talks about privatizing the festival in the future; and exploring the possibility of shifting the venue for the music event.


As we reached Dimapur and read this news, what became apparent was that the identity of Nagaland State’s 18 year old Hornbill Festival was still either nonexistent or at the least in very early stages of evolution.


But before addressing that, a quick note on public infrastructure and how this is the foundational concern that needs to be addressed. A state that provides competent administration that efficiently manages and operates public infrastructure is the first requirement before confronting the question of Hornbill’s identity. Case in point; we would definitely not have gone for the second day of Weekender if the roads from Shillong to Jowai resembled anything like the one from Dimapur to Kohima. That pretty much sums up the point.


Now on the question of identity, Weekender is brazenly corporate. It was about making money first, about the music second, and about helping the local economy third. Whether one agreed with the idea or not; it left you with no doubt as to what the festival really was.


Of course, forming a singular identity for a festival like Hornbill which encompasses so many facets will be a bit more complicated. However, there is a need for the festival to eventually form congruity on what it stands for.


If privatization is being mulled, the severance with state propaganda is essential; and if the event is to act as a mouthpiece for the state, then this needs to be made clear as well.


Or if the festival is genuinely to be a community endeavor, a holistic conjunction of the state, the private sector and the community is essential. And this needs to be communicated and shown to the public so that there is no veil, and we are left in no doubt as to what Hornbill really is– a museum showcase, a propaganda machine or an enterprise that truly represents an identity that is unashamedly modern and unabashedly Naga.


The writer is the Associate Editor at The Morung Express. Comments can be sent to imlisanenjamir@gmail.com