Kohima: In a bid to address the issue of cultural appropriation and protecting the Naga cultural identity, the first ever state-level consultative meeting on “Documentation of traditional attires, motifs, designs and ornaments” was held at the Capital Convention Centre in Kohima on Monday.

The meeting was held between the state government and tribal hohos.

During the meeting, the 8-member committee, headed by chairman of the Nagaland Handloom & Handicrafts Development Corporation (NHHDC) that was constituted earlier to document the traditional designs, has also been directed to present its report within one year.

Addressing the meet, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio expressed concern over the incorrect usage of the Naga traditional designs by various e-commerce websites and in fashion show events, without having any regard for the people who hold these traditional symbols in high regard.

“This misuse of traditional attires and symbols, known as cultural appropriation, has to be guarded. This issue of cultural appropriation should be taken with sincerity, because the unregulated use of our cultural designs and symbols will lead to distortion and misrepresentation,” the chief minister said. 

As Naga traditional attires have so much symbolism attached to it, he said, that wearing these attires correctly and on appropriate occasions needs to be taken very seriously.

While the intention is not to prevent others from using traditional attires or to stop communities and entrepreneurs from doing business related to it, but we must ensure that these traditional designs and symbols are used appropriately, Rio added. 

“We should also take steps to ensure that our precious cultural heritage is protected under legal provisions such as Intellectual Property rights (IPR) and Geographical Indications (GI). Only then can we start controlling and regulating the use of our traditional attires, symbols and ornaments. Otherwise, a situation may arise where the ownership of our traditional and cultural heritage may be misused,” Rio said.

He mentioned unless cultural heritage is documented and protected by law, it will not prevent the outsiders from exploiting the use of the indigenous designs. 

Highlighting the importance of IPR and GI, Mmhonlumo Kikon, advisor to the department of IT&C, Science and Technology, NRE, said there is a system in place and a rule of law to tackle the challenges of intellectual property theft. To ensure that the intellectual property rights of the Nagas are protected, he said that the committee has been constituted. The constitution of the committee, he said, speaks of the government’s intention to protect the rights and heritage of the Nagas. 

He informed that the Patent Information Centre (PIC), established in 2011 under the department of science and technology, is the facilitating window for IPR-related activities in the state. Since its formation, he said that the PIC has been acting as the nodal agency and has established five IPR cells across the state. 

Although the PIC has successfully facilitated in filing the GI tag for the Chakhesang shawls in 2017, he expressed his disappointment for not being able to file GI for the other tribal shawls.

He also sought the support of the Naga people in preserving their cultural heritage. Despite the government’s proactiveness in stopping the proliferation of intellectual theft, he said that the community should be proactive and vocal in protecting their cultural rights and heritage. 

NHHDC chairman Miathou Krose informed that to address the issue of cultural appropriation, the government has directed the constitution of the committee that is determined to take the exercise forward as it is not just a project, but a mission.

The mission, he said, is to protect the identity and preserve the rich culture of the Naga people while also proclaiming and promoting “Brand Nagaland”.

According to Krose, the traditional attires and ornaments are not just for fashion. Each design has a story to tell, and these stories have been passed down from generation to generation.

Krose also advised the tribal hohos to nominate the most capable persons from the respective community to assist the committee in the documentation process, as it involves the use of right terminologies and authentic information to document the culture and practices of the tribes. 

Although a time period of one year is set as the target for the completion of the project, he assured that the committee will do its best to complete the project as soon as possible even before the deadline. 

The committee comprises NHHDC Ltd chairman as the chairperson, NHHDC managing director as member secretary, and director of Art & culture department, director of the Department of Underdeveloped Areas (DUDA), director of tribal affairs department, additional director of Information and Public Relations (IPR) department, Nagaland Science & Technology Council member Dr. Nesetalu Hiese, and Deputy Secretary of Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Services department Sharon Longchari as members. 

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