Indigenous food systems provide us continuity

Indigenous food
Indigenous food

(Left) Kholar, an indigenous beans. (Centre) An elderly man dries maize in the sun after harvesting in Kiphire Town. (Right) Millet store in cane basket at a granary. (Morung Photo)


P Achumse Yingbithongrü


The Sangtam Nagas, a tribe residing in Kiphire and Tuensang districts, are not only known for their rich culture, traditional art and craft, but also recognised for various indigenous food items. Some of the main indigenous food items of Sangtams are Millet, Job Tears, Sorghum, Barley and Beans (Kholar).


Food and Culture
During ancient time Millet, Job Tears, Sorghum and Barely were both use as food and for making rice beer. But, not all had the privileged to make rice beer as the poor couldn’t afford to make rice beer as they had very little to eat because of drought.

It was only the rich in the village who could indulge in making rice beer as they had enough surplus of food. There was pride and social standing in the society attached to those who produced the finest rice beer, as elders and friends flock to their house making social alliance and social connection over drinks.

It was over food and rice beer that tradition and culture was keep intact and alive.


Usage of Millet, Job Tears, Sorghum and Barely
Millet, Job Tears, Sorghum and Barely were exclusively use both for food and for making the best cocktail rice beer, as during ancient time, use of modern day tea and tea leave was not known.

In substitute to modern day tea and black tea, rice beer was served to guest and friends during fest and marriage.
Elders said, even today millet, job tears, sorghum and barely are use as it forms part and parcel of Sangtam culture and tradition. Elders observed that technologically produce rice and food should not come into the way in preserving our food habit and protecting our culture and identity.


Social and Cultural significance
Elders said it is only now that we talk about lakh and crore to consider one’s wealth but in ancient time wealth and power was consider according to how much one had baskets of Millet, Job Tears, Sorghum and Barely in granaries.
Even during marriage for the rich, gift was given not in-terms of materialistic value but it was this baskets of Millet, Job Tears, Sorghum and Barely that was given by girl family while sending her off, which was highly respected and counted by people.


Sorghum, Ginger and Egg for ritualistic purpose
Sorghum, ginger and egg were not only a food item but was the culture itself for the Sangtam for performing ritualistic offering during ancient time for various purposes. This food items constituted culture and religion for the Sangtam Naga.

Sorghum, Ginger and egg were use as offering for the purification of new land during the formation of new village, at the same time, for the sanctification of new harvest this food items were use for the offering, only after which harvest were harvested for consumption.

However, after the coming of Christianity this practice has ceased to exist. For the elders, food was not just for the nourishment of health, but it defined who they where as a tribe. Food was not just the culture but culture was the food itself.


Beans (Kholar)
If there is one food item Sangtam’s are known for, then it is arguably renowned for its indigenous beans (Popularly known as Kholar) which are in high demand because of its taste and flavour. You go to a Sangtam house and you will come across that Kholar form the main diet for both the haves and have-nots.

Cooking kholar involves various techniques; it can be cooked with smoke pork, fresh pork and also with local potato that is produced from Kiphire. But, to get the best flavour, Kholar is keep soak in the water for few hours, as soaking Kholar make it more digestible and adds flavour.

Kiphire is known to produce one of the high yielding and best quality Kholar in Nagaland, farmers in Kiphire has taken to cultivating Kholar both for personal consumption and for commercial purpose, with its rapid growing popularity and high demand, farmers are reaping the benefit out of it.


Why food and culture has to be preserved
The intangible heritage that the tribal population possesses including traditional knowledge system contains many positive and productive elements that are really invaluable for the entire humanity.

Each human community has developed its own ways of life to satisfy human needs through the process of interacting with specific environment and the universe throughout the centuries.

These processes provide living communities with a sense of continuity with its previous generation and are more important to culture diversity, as well as safeguarding of cultural diversity and creativity of humanity.

There is thus an urgent need to preserve intangible heritage in order to contribute to the development of mankind.