A land engulfed in mystery, inhabited by vibrant people zealously guarding their culture – dancers, warriors, head-hunters; mountains, valleys, forests – all these form the portrait of Nagaland the moment the word is uttered. But, from extreme mystery to hosting a globally famous cultural festival, Nagaland has come a long way over the years and etched a name for itself in the world’s tourist destination map.
Nagaland came into being on 1st December, 1963 as the sixteenth state of the Indian Union with Kohima as her capital. With a geographical area of about 16,579 sq km, she shares her borders with Assam in the North and West, Myanmar and Arunachal Pradesh in the East and Manipur in the South. The topography of the state is nearly all hilly, the highest peak being Saramati (3841m) in the district of Kiphire. Many rivers cut through this mountainous terrain, like sharp swords slicing through rocks, the main ones being Dhansiri, Doyang, Dikhu, Milak, Tizu and Zungki.
The climate of Nagaland is nothing but perfect. With pleasant summers when temperatures do not average above 31o C and winters when they don’t average below 4oC, the place is a ‘perpetual holiday destination’.
The best months to visit Nagaland are between October and May, when the landscape wears a green carpet and the flowers light up the skies with their bright hue. Rhododendrons and Orchids cover the landscape of Nagaland and one cannot miss them even as he is driving or trekking the challenging terrain. Traditionally the Naga people have been hardcore hunters, but awareness in conservation has resulted in common sighting of endangered birds and animals. The rare Blyth’s tragopan (Tragopan blythii) is a resident of Nagaland and can be observed in plenty. In 2012, mass trapping and capture of migrating Amur falcons (Falco amurensis) was discovered in Nagaland and a successful campaign was initiated to prevent their killing. As part of this campaign, three birds were fitted with 5 gm satellite transmitters that allowed them to be tracked during their migration.
A 21st century creation of Nagaland is the Hornbill festival, an event which is now getting known globally. During Hornbill, which takes place on the first week of December, the entire Naga culture is showcased in full splendor in the Kisama village of Kohima district. The government of Nagaland welcomes one and all to this mega event for a preview of what the state has to offer in terms of culture, traditions, tourism interest and industry.
A dash of colour: people, life and culture
A population of only about 1.9 million, the numbers may sound meagre when compared with the vast population of the Indian peninsula; but these few people are composed of 16 different major tribes, each representing a unique cultural system. With a population density of 120 persons per sq km, generally one major or minor tribe enjoys predominance across each of the 11 administrative districts (consisting of 52 blocks).
Spirits, fertility, social bonding and purification are the key elements that form the essence of the Naga festivals – the custom that each tribe follows, translates into a festival. These traditional events, combined with life in the rural areas, are exceptionally engaging and distinctive. All of them are annual events with fixed dates; hence, before visiting Nagaland, the interested traveller can arrange his or her calendar accordingly. The first festival takes place in January and the last (or is it the last recorded?) in December – no matter what the season is, some festival is always round the corner.
Gifts of Gaia: orchids, rhododendrons, bamboo & exotic fruits
If William Wordsworth had the good fortune of visiting Nagaland, he would unquestionably have written a full collection of poems on the flowers that dance to the tune of spring here. Just as the people colour the terrain with their bright attire and vibrant dances, so does the sky adorn itself with the flowers of the Orchids and Rhododendrons. The varieties of the native flowering flora are countless in Nagaland. Be it a valley, a hill or a mountain top – in Nagaland, Orchids, Rhododendrons and the people, welcome you everywhere.
Not only does bamboo create an ambience of enchanting wilderness, it is also a product of great economic and cultural value. In Nagaland, bamboo provides the body and the soul for traditional architecture, crafts and tools, besides being the state’s major commercial produce for paper and textile industries. The merits of this wonder grass can be seen in Asia’s largest bamboo pavilion that the Govt. of Nagaland has built in Kisama (the site of the hornbill festival in Kohima district).
Successful experiments in the cultivation of exotic fruits, generally grown in other countries, are slowly showing potential of a new sustainable industry. Many private growers have successfully planted passion fruit, dragon fruit, mangosteen etc and such farms can be visited in Dimapur. Whereas Naga pineapples come in many fragrant varieties, the Raja (king) chilli is the global icon of pungency.
Dream crafts: handicrafts, handlooms & fashion
Handicrafts come naturally to the Nagas – master craftsmen can create anything from a small paper knife to large and trendy pieces of furniture using cane and bamboo.
The Naga Heritage Complex is a permanent site built at Kisama – the purpose of this complex is to serve as a ‘Window to Nagaland’ (WTN), aiming at providing a preview of the entire state on a single platform. The WTN showcases the traditional houses or Morungs, representing the 17 recognised tribes of Nagaland. Each of these units display the unique offerings of each tribe in terms of crafts, cuisine, cultural activities etc. besides providing points of sale for the local products. An added attraction is the Flower Garden for the display, sale and exhibition of flowers, plants and fruits. The WTN also house the World War II Museum.
The colours of the Naga people have been showcased internationally through their handloom products. The red and black Naga shawls and throw-overs have become a familiar sight in many countries because of the master weavers and marketing efforts by government and private stakeholders.
The traditional art of handloom products has also made space for the modern 21st century fashion apparels and the two are now complementing each other perfectly through the fusion of traditional and modern designs; products created from this concept have caught the eye of the international fashion world. A number of young Naga designers have graduated from the best fashion schools in India and the west and they hold promises of carrying traditional Naga fashion across borders in a contemporary manner
Muses & Athletes
Music, for the Nagas, is a necessity not just an amusement. Ancient Naga songs that formed the souls of the traditional festivals have been handed down across the generations. Indigenous musical instruments are bamboo mouth organs, cup violins, bamboo flutes, trumpets, cattle skin drums and log drums. The tribes have unique traditional instruments influenced by their customs and available materials. The young generation has also taken to gospel and modern western music very naturally and many of these performers have made an impact in the mainstream musical world through their talent.
Possessing tough and flexible bodies, the Nagas are ‘Natural Born Warriors’. Across the centuries, they have perfected their traditional martial arts like Ki-Ti-Do.
The Hornbill Festival
The Hornbill Festival, a yearly feature taking place on the first week of December is a modern day cultural extravaganza of all Naga tribes. The Festival was conceptualized to showcase Naga culture, traditional and contemporary, in the spirit of unity in diversity. This Festival is held at the heritage village of Kisama, about 12 km from Kohima. The goal of creating this heritage village is the protection and preservation of the ethnic cultural heritage through a common management approach and comprehensive data base for the perpetuation of tourism promotion – since its inception in the year 2000, it has brought about radical changes in the tourism scenario of the state. A visitor gets the opportunity to catch a ring side view of all the Naga tribes, their culture and distinctiveness at one place. The Heritage complex consists of a cluster of seventeen indigenously designed houses (also called Morung meaning Youth Dormitory), each representative of a different tribe.
Nagaland today is in a situation where many other famous tourist destinations were unheard of some decades back. However, the potential and diversity it holds are perhaps far more than a lot of existing popular destinations. Over the years, the state has been through a lot of ups and downs; but this has been a blessing in disguise for it has preserved the beauty, natural wealth and the overall sanity of the place.
Today, as India’s northeast is making rapid economic progress and carving out a corridor into South-East Asia, Nagaland is standing on the threshold of an economic boom. Among all other industries that the central and state governments are trying to promote, sustainable tourism has the upper hand, for it is the only way for progress and eco-friendliness to walk hand-in-hand. For the investor, there is an imminent ‘gold rush’ waiting to happen with Nagaland’s tourism potentials – all it needs is a bit of vision on the part of the entrepreneurs.
Main Festival: Sekrenyi
Date: February 25-27
The Sekrenyi festival of the Angami tribe falls on the 25th day of the Angami month of Kezei. It is a celebration of purification accompanied with feasting and singing. A highlight of Sekrenyi is the Thekra Hie, when the village youths gather and croon traditional songs throughout the day.
Main Festival: Ngada
Date: November 27-28
The Rengmas commemorate the Ngada festival for eight days just after the harvest. It is the festival of thanksgiving and rejoicing. Ngada also underscores the end of the agricultural year. The village high priest (Phensengu) heralds the beginning of the festival at the top of his voice, so that the villagers can prepare themselves for it.
Main Festival: Hega
Date: February 10-15
The Zeliangrong are formed of three tribes, namely, the ZEmei, the LIANGmei and the RONGmei and the name Zeliangrong is derived from the first few syllables of these three individual tribes. Hega, their matrimonial festival, is dedicated to the almighty. Besides seeking his protection and guidance, during Hega the Zeliangs invoke God to bless his people with wealth, luck and courage. This is considered as an auspicious time for young couples to tie the nuptial knot. The festival begins with a variety of programmes and merrymaking.
Main Festival: Mimkut
Date: January 17
The Kukis are one of the tribes who followed a southerly migration route and were known as Aishen when they migrated from Manipur. Later some of them also migrated to Meluri sub-division towards the Indo-Myanmar border. Kukis celebrate Mimkut, a harvest festival, for a week from the 17th day of the Kuki month of Tolbol. It is said that Mimkut and other festivals started in order to appease Thilha the demon. The village medicine man (Thempu) sacrifices fowls and performs a series of rituals to propitiate the spirit of the demon-god during this festival.
Main Festival: Bushu
Date: Last week of January
The Bushu (or Bushu Jiba) is a post harvest festival which usually falls in the month of January after the paddy is harvested, threshed and stored. Although the exact date is not fixed, people generally celebrate it around a full moon night in January because it is believed to be auspicious.
Main Festival: Tsukhenye & Sükrunyi
Date: May 05 & January 15 respectively
A new year of activities begins with the arrival of spring; all activities related to sports and entertainment that began after the harvest, cease along with the Tsukhenye festival. The festival lasts for four days – on the first morning, the village priest sacrifices the first rooster that crows. The men folk purify themselves by bathing in a designated well where no women are allowed. After bathing, they invoke the Almighty for strength, long life, good harvest etc
During Sukrenye, considered as the most important Chakhesang festival, the boys and girls are consecrated through religious ceremonies and rituals. Sükrunyi is celebrated over a total of eleven days.
Main Festival: Yemshe
Date: October 05
Yemshe is the festival for blessing the upcoming harvest. All the Pochuries celebrate this festival with great pomp and gaiety anticipating a good harvest. Yemshe is observed only on October 05 in tune with the traditional days of the event
Main Festival: Naknyulem
Date: July 31
The Chang share an affinity with the Sema, Lotha, Ao, Yimchungrü, Phom, Sangtam and some Southern Naga tribes, as can be deduced from old legends. Naknyulem is a festival of bonding through the exchange of gifts and delicacies amongst friends and relatives – meat, wine and freshly packed bread are abundantly used. Festivities run throughout the day through games like top spinning, tug-of-war, high jump, long jump, climbing of oiled poles and grabbing big lumps of cooked meat hung in rows along a bamboo rope strung at a height. The womenfolk play and compete with the instrument Kongkhim.
Main Festival: Moatsü
Date: May 01 – 03
A bonding festival, Moatsü Mong is celebrated by the Ao after the season of sowing is over – the festival, celebrated with vigorous singing and dancing continues the customary practices of making the best rice beer and rearing the best pigs and cows for slaughtering during the festival. The womenfolk, dressed in their traditional fineries, join the men folk in composing warrior songs. Villagers sing songs to eulogize the lovers and the village folk as a whole. The elders encourage the youth to be bold and heroic for defending the villages from enemies, a custom continued from the head-hunting days.
Main Festival: Aoleang
Date: April 1-2
The forefathers of the Konyak believed they were direct descendents of Noah and they have biblical names like Mosa, Kaisa, Aron etc. It is also believed that they crossed a mythical gate called Alemkaphan which the Konyaks interpret as gate of the sun. The village heads still use the word Wang (Angh) for themselves, meaning ‘the beginning of everything’. Aoleang Monyü is an ancient spring festival celebrated by all Konyaks in the first week of Aoleang lee (April) since time immemorial. Aoleang is observed to mark the end of the old year and to welcome the new-year beginning with spring. Prayers are offered to God for a bountiful harvest.
Main Festival: Monyü
Date: April 01-02
A new-year festival, the arrival of Monyü is announced by the beating of log drums with a distinct tune traditionally called Lan Nyangshem. A feature of this festival is the men folk showing respect to their married daughters or sisters by offering them specially prepared food and rice beer – this custom reflects the high status of women in a Phom household.
Main Festival: Miu
Date: May 05
A bonding festival, a main purpose of Miu is to build and reinforce relations between a maternal uncle and his nephews and nieces. The maternal uncle offers special prayers to deities for granting prosperity and power over enemies to his nephews and nieces.
Main Festival: Metumniu
Date: August 4 – 8
The Yimchungers celebrate Metumniu after the harvest of millet. It is an emotional event, for it is combined with prayers for the departed near and dear ones. An elder, known as Kheanpuru, inaugurates the festival after due prayers. The festival is spread over 5 days known distinctly as Shito, Zhihto, Zumto, Khehresuk and Sheresuk.
Main Festival: Mongmong
Date: September 03
The Sangtams have about twelve festivals spread over the calendar year including some special functions. Except a few types, all the festivals are connected to food production, blessings and prosperity. Mongmong is one of the most important festivals of the Sangtam. The predominant theme of the festival is the worship of the deity of the house and the three cooking stones in the fireplace.
Main Festival: Tokhu Emong
Date: November 07
Tokhü Emong is the harvest festival of the Lothas and the entire village participates in the celebrations. Every household prepares food & drink for friends, families, neighbours that are invited to each other’s house and this continues for days. The main features of the feast are community songs, dances, feast, fun and frolic.
Main Festival: Tuluni
Date: July 08
Tuluni is a festival of great significance. This festival is marked with feast as the occasion occurs in the bountiful season of the year. Drinking rice – beer indispensably forms a part of the feast. Rice – beer is served in goblet made with the leaf of plantain. This wine is called TULUNI. Therefore, consumption of the wine is called “TULUNI”. Tuluni is also called “ANNI” the word of which denotes the season of plentiful crops. This mid – year (JULY) festival is the greatest and most fervent moment for the Sumi Community of Nagaland. During this festival, the betrothed exchange basketful of gifts with meals. The fiancé is invited to a grand dinner at the fiancé’s residence. Even siblings of the families of both the bride and groom exchange dinner and packed food and meat.