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:
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]
The Mithun of Nagaland.
The Mithun of Nagaland is not the usual Holy Cow found in India. This large but gentle bovine species is protected by communities, and is allowed free-range feeding. The people who own a Mithun 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].
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.
Every Naga is a Musician
It is true! Every Naga is a musician. If he or she cannot play a musical instrument, they will certainly be able to 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.
The Naga King Chilli
Nagas love chilies. 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!
Headhunters of Nagaland
Yes, Nagas were once ferocious headhunters. But Nagas today, are arguably some of the nicest people I know, and undoubtedly some of the most stylish. They take a while to let you into their lives (especially if you’re from the mainland), but when they do, they’re very generous and caring.
If I have the choice of eating one sub-continental cuisine for the rest of my life, I would choose Naga food. Cooked with almost no oil and the purest, freshest local ingredients, Naga cuisine boasts of everything from exotic meats and vegetables, and some of the most delicious pork dishes I have ever had in my life!
World History is Here.
Nagaland holds a significant place in world history. Kohima was the epicenter of one of the bloodiest battles in World War II, where the Allied troops stopped the invading Japanese Imperial Army from entering British India. The Kohima Commonwealth War Cemetary today highlights the fact that Hindu, Muslim, and Christian soldiers fought bravely side by side and gave their lives to protect their land and people. And today, they are immortalised side by side, as you can see in the picture above.
The wingspan of the butterfly in the photo above was about the length of my UK-size-8 shoe! Really. And only in Nagaland will you get to see such amazing living things in the cities and in the wild. This land is blessed with abundant nature and wildlife. The Doyang Lake near Wokha for example, is home to the largest migration of Amur Falcons in the world!
Literacy and Education
The 2011 Census says Nagaland has 79.55% literacy. Given the rise of world-class educational institutes like Tetso College in Dimapur, the figure is most likely much higher today. And it is not just degrees and certificates I am talking about.
Most Nagas speak English, and it serves as a common language, along with the unique Nagamese to bind the 16+ tribes that speak different dialects and languages. Besides speaking, I have found most Nagas to be well-read, and well-versed in classic literature and contemporary culture, besides whatever stream of arts and science that they have taken up as a passion or professional pursuit.
Images of Nagaland
The previous ten images are indicative, not exhaustive images of what you can see, learn, and experience in Nagaland. Check out some more photos below. But admittedly, they’re just photos. You’ve got to visit this beautiful State in northeast India, to discover Nagaland beyond Hornbill!
Ps. I am relatively new to Nagaland. Yet, the things I’ve discovered, the people I’ve met, and the experiences I’ve gathered, tell me that I have a past life connection with that part of the world. Perhaps that’s why I love it out there!