Whenever I mention Nagaland to people in mainland India, most of them say “Ah, Hornbill! You must have gone for Hornbill, right? I want to go to Hornbill!”
When I confess that I have not been to the Hornbill Festival, they look surprised and wonder if I have really been to Nagaland. Some of them even verbalize the thought that runs through all their minds – “if not Hornbill, what’s there in Nagaland??”
Well, there’s much more to Nagaland, than the 10-day festival that happens once a year in December.
And no, it is not what you are thinking. There is a huge gap in the perception and reality of Nagaland and the Naga people.
Yes, Nagas were fierce headhunters once upon a time, but Nagas today, are arguably some of the friendliest people I know, and definitely the most stylish and sophisticated.
Yes, some Naga people eat dog meat, but Naga food has an amazing variety that includes exotic vegetables, and I’ve had some of the tastiest pork dishes in my life, here in Nagaland.
And yes, there are armed rebel groups in camps all over Nagaland even today, but not a single civilian outsider has been harmed in the fight for an independent Naga nation, for over a decade.
Now that I’ve cleared up some misconceptions, let me share a little bit more about Nagaland, and some of the things I’ve discovered and come to love here:
01. The #Church and #Christianity. Nagaland is one of the three Christian-majority states of India (the other two are Meghalaya and Mizoram). The religion clearly binds the State and its people together in common values, approach to life, and respect for all living things. I also believe, the Church and Christianity are probably the most powerful elements that prevent Nagaland from sliding into utter chaos and complete corruption today.
The Kohima Catholic Cathedral, or Mary Help of Christians Church featured in the picture above, was consecrated in 1991, and is one of the most iconic landmarks of Nagaland’s capital city – Kohima. It stands tall atop a hill and is visible for miles around. It has the capacity to welcome 4,500 worshippers at any given time. [to read more about the Cathedral, please click here]
02. The #Mithun of Nagaland. This is not the usual Holy Cow found in India. This large but gentle bovine species is protected by communities, allowed free-range feeding, and people who own them rise a couple of notches above others in society.
However, the Mithun is not only kept for its milk but is also used in ritualistic sacrifice, when Mithun meat is consumed with much delight!
Mithun variations are found all over northeast India, and Nagaland even has a government center, dedicated to Mithun research and protection [see website here].
03. Youth and their #Naga Identity. The people of Nagaland have been in conflict with the idea of India as its sovereign, since the end of British rule here in 1947. While there has been armed conflict in the past, and minor skirmishes take place even today between security forces and members of various NSCN groups, relative calm exists between the two today, thanks to a ceasefire agreement that has been in place for over a decade now, and the ongoing talks and framework of the Naga Peace Accord.
While armed groups and the Naga Hoho play significant roles in the Naga conflict and related peace talks, Naga students have in the past, and continue even today, to contribute to the Naga cause. The Naga Students Federation (NSF) is one such community of young leaders across Nagaland, that was formed in 1947, and is committed to ‘Intellectual Fight’ against forces that threaten Naga existence, rights, and identity.
In the picture above, you will notice several stones with inscriptions on them. Each of these stones that surround the NSF General Conference Monolith at Khonoma lists the name and year of each village, where the NSF has held its conferences over the years.
04. Every Naga is a Musician, or he or she can at least sing. And like religion, music is another great force that binds the Naga people together.
While Alobo Naga and Tetseo Sisters have made a name for themselves and Nagaland outside the State, there are countless individuals and organisations that make and promote music and musicians from Nagaland. Folks like Theja Meru with the Handshake Concert and Bethel Tsuzu with her Mountain Music Academy help keep the rhythms of this beautiful land flowing.
05. The Naga King Chilli, Bhoot Jolokia, Raja Micha, or the Viper Chilli, is one of the hottest chilies in the world. It grows all over Northeast India, and in abundance all over Nagaland. In fact, Nagaland has even got the patent rights to the Naga King Chilli. You haven’t really tasted chili, until you’ve tasted this at least once in your life!