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Nagaland - Background

If India is a country that boasts of ‘unity in diversity’, then the NorthEast is its most visible embodiment. Among the North-Eastern states, Nagaland stands out as a land of diverse tribes, systems of governance, cultures, sheer color and variety. As its 16 major tribes hold their festivals each calendar month of the year, Nagaland is often referred to as the ‘land of festivals’.

On the border with Burma (Myanmar), south of Arunachal Pradesh and east of Assam, Nagaland is physically and conceptually at the very extremity of the subcontinent. Many of its hills and valleys, home to the fiercely independent Nagas, were uncharted until recently, and the eastern regions, remain far beyond the reach of the skeletal road system, despite the fact that the forested mountains rarely exceed 3000m in height. Today this remains the most politically sensitive of the so-called Northeastern hill states.

Although the capital of Nagaland, Kohima, 74km east of Dimapur bordering the Assam Valley, was built by the British in the nineteenth century. It was never a hill station, and lacks Victorian promenades, villas and public gardens. It was founded here - alongside the large Angami village known as Kohima Village, or in the adopted Hindusthani as Bara Basti (the large village) - strictly for the purposes of administration, and continues in much the same vein under a new regime. A more intimate glimpse of traditional Naga life is offered by the walk up to Bara Basti, or the short trip to Khonoma, 20km beyond Kohima, the Nagas' once impregnable stronghold, sacked by the British in 1879 and again by the Indian army in 1956.

From villages perched high on the mountain ridges to either side of the valleys of Nagaland, Naga tribespeople survey their separate domains. Headhunters until not so long ago, the Nagas have long been feared and respected throughout the northeast, although in truth they are a warm and welcoming people. They seem originally to have lived in northeast Tibet, then moved through southwest China into Burma, Malaya and Indonesia, as well as eastern Assam. In Nagaland, they can be divided into sixteen main groups, including the Angamis around Kohima, the Konyaks, Ao, Lothas, Semas and Wanchus. Despite their fierce reputation, all are essentially farmers who cultivate terraced fields and tend cattle.

Naga villages often have dramatic settings, generally on prominent points along ridges. Formerly they were stockaded with stone walls, palisades, dykes, thorn fences or the like, and many had village gates with great wooden doors decorated with painted carvings in bas-relief, approached through narrow, winding trenches and defiles. A few of these features are retained sporadically, notably panjis, sharp bamboo poles with fire-hardened tips which are inserted upright in the ground.

Houses tend to be large, size as well as style and decoration reflecting the importance of the owner. Construction on poles is common. Among some tribes the houses have high gables, projecting forward. Others are topped by crossed wooden horns. Verandahs are a typical feature, and decoration of large structures frequently includes carved and painted posts and beams, relics of great feasts, trophies of war and the hunt, and so on.

The morung, in effect a dormitory for un­married males, is an important feature in many Naga vil­ lages, and many groups have corresponding accommodations for girls. The numerous activities centering around the morung include education and discipline of the young; inculcation of tribal mores and values; and training in manual arts, warfare and techniques of hunting and fishing. They are also ceremonial and recreational centers, and often play important roles in mate selection and mobiliza­ tion of village labor. Ornate carving is characteristic of morung architecture, and decorations formerly included skulls and trophy heads.

The State of Nagaland was formally inaugurated on December 1st, 1963, as the 16th State of the Indian Union. It is bounded by Assam in the West, Myanmar (Burma) on the east, Arunachal Pradesh and part of Assam on the North and Manipur in the South. The State consists of seven Administrative Districts, inhabited by 16 major tribes along with other sub-tribes. Each tribe is distinct in character from the other in terms of customs, language and dress.

It is a land of folklore passed down the generations through word of mouth. Here, music is an integral part of life; folk songs eulogising ancestors, the brave deeds of warriors and traditional heroes; poetic love songs immortalising ancient tragic love stories; Gospel songs that touch your soul (should you have a religious bend of mind) or the modern tunes rendered exquisitely to set feet a-tapping.

Each of the 16 odd tribes and sub-tribes that dwell in this exotic hill State can easily be distinguished by the colorful and intricately designed costumes, jewellery and beads that they adorn. The present generation of Nagas have ventured into fashion designing in a big way, reproducing fabrics that represent the ancestral motifs blended with modern appeal. Indeed, it is a beautiful mix of the past with the present,a paradise for those who are into fashion designing. This is an affluent fashion station of the East.

The traditional ceremonial attire of each tribe is in itself, an awe inspiring sight to behold; the multicoloured spears and daos decorated with dyed goats hair, the headgear made of finely woven bamboo interlaced with orchid stems, adorned with boar's teeth and hornbill's feathers, elephant tusk armlets. In days of yore every warrior had to earn each of these items through acts of valour, to wear them.

Nature could not have been kinder to Nagaland, sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of the East; the exquisitely picturesque landscapes, the vibrantly colourful sunrise and sunset, lush and verdant flora, this is a land that represents unimaginable beauty, moulded perfectly for a breath taking experience.

Its people belong to the Indo-Mongoloid stock, whose ancestors lived off nature's abundant gifts, blessed with sturdy formidable dispositions. Above all, the people here are warmhearted and extremely hospitable. Nagaland is blessed with salubrious climate throughout the year and one can visit it anytime. If one is looking for a quiet getaway, from the hustle and bustle of city life, it provides the right ambience; as life here is laidback and slow - providing a tension free life.

Superficial change is evident in increasing Naga acceptance of Western hats and shoes, brassieres, lipstick, flashlights, aluminum utensils, and a variety of junk jewelry and plastic gadgetry. More fundamental changes have come with the decline or extinction of inter­tribal warfare, head-hunting, slavery and merit-feasting. Numerous aspects of traditional ceremonialism, religion, arts, crafts and sociopolitical life, formerly geared to warfare and feasting as main themes of Naga culture, have undergone consequent decay. An important example is deterioration of the morung, a key institution of Naga social, economic and political organization which formerly ensured stability and continuity in tribal life through manifold functions in manpower mobilization, education and training, mate selection and marriage, and general community management. Nagaland is blessed with salubrious climate throughout the year and one can visit it anytime. If one is looking for a quiet getaway, from the hustle and bustle of city life, it provides the right ambience; as life here is laidback and slow - providing a tension free life.

For the adventurous and the intrepid, Nagaland is an ideal place for trekking, rock climbing, jungle camping and offers limitless exploration possibilities in its lush and verdant sub-tropical rain forests which are also a treasure trove of a plethora of medicinal plants. Nagas, by nature, are lovers of fun and frolic and their life is one long festival. The Nagas with their joie de vivre, dance and songs are a part and parcel of all their festivities. Most of their dances are performed with a robust rhythm.

Foreign tourist no longer require a Restricted Area Permit (RAP)/Protected Area Permit (PAP) to enter Nagaland. As per the new rules, the foreigners only have to register themselves at the local Foreigners Registration Officer (FRO) of the district they visit within 24 hours of their arrival in Nagaland. However, citizens of Pakistan, Bangladesh and China still need to apply for PAP/RAP from the Home Ministry.

The taste for Naga food has to be acquired and cultivated, and there’s no argument about it. Period. Some first timers love it at first encounter; others totally abhor it, while still others eventually grow to understand and accept its taste and then begin to love it. You simply cannot sit on the fence about your like or dislike for Naga food, especially axone. No one can be indifferent to Naga food. It’s “either” “or” – meaning, you ‘either’ love it ‘or’ you hate it. Period. Or sometimes, most times, you begin to love it when you are more and more exposed to its wonderful peculiarity. The flavor of axone differs from community to community in Nagaland. For instance, you have the Sumi flavor, the Ao flavor, the Angami flavor and so on. My occasional favorite is Angami flavor. It’s totally pungent, can even sting the eyes and take you straight to the moon; but the taste, the cultivated and acquired taste is quite another thing.

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Page last modified: 19-02-2018 14:42:33 ZULU