Artistes performing a traditional dance at the Hornbill Festival Credit: File image

In the land of storytelling and singing that permeate the air, a land known for its rich traditions and colourful festivals, The Naga Heritage Village — the venue for the famed Hornbill Festival — reverberated with the sound of traditional cry and a gamut of cultural activities for a 10-day long celebration bringing together all the tribes of Nagaland to one common platform and also drawing thousands of both international and domestic tourists.

When it closed on the evening of December 10, it did with a show that many would remember for years to come. The closing ceremony celebrated the Naga story right from where it began to how far we have come by highlighting different snippets of all that Nagas are — from headhunting to beatboxing. How we carried forward this legacy of storytelling that brewed in old Naga traditional homes, where many of our folktales, folk songs and stories of our rich culture and tradition have been passed on, from generations to generations.

Coming from a farming background where our forefathers tilled the land in picturesque terrace fields, overlooking pristine mountains and faraway blue skies, it showcased how farming is still extensively practised in rural villages as farmers wait for the rains to pave way for cultivation and the dawn of October heralding the season for harvest with fields turning golden in the beautifully aligned terrace fields in many corners of Nagaland.

Of the many tribal festivals that are celebrated to either invoke God’s blessings or as a thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest, all of these made way to the closing ceremony of the Hornbill Festival. It also featured how our forefathers lived through an era of headhunting that was once prevalent among the Naga tribes where the taking of a head symbolises courage and the heads of the enemy were preserved as trophies and how this victory was celebrated with much feasting, singing and dancing. But how, while victory was celebrated over conquering the enemy, there would be deep sadness prevailing somewhere for the heads taken belong to some family, to some loved ones, for whom, the loss will always be irreparable.

And how, when Christianity came, it changed the very way Nagas lived, and in a sense, moved from darkness to light and with the dawn of Christianity how education came and then also emerged a whole new generation that has found news ways to harness our culture and tradition. And the songs our forefathers sang, season after season, and year after year evolving on a grand scale; a show celebrating equal appreciation for contemporary music, and the young Nagas of today, who have over the years, created new music, new adventures, new hobbies and new dreams, all of them continuing to weave the Naga Story that is rich, vibrant, unique and beautiful.

This was how the 10-day Hornbill Festival came to a close, which I thought was fitting if only to remind ourselves how far we have come or otherwise, also achieve the purpose of sharing the Naga story with the world. All of that Nagas are, put together in a one-hour-show of music, singing and dancing was not only entertaining but a lovely reminder of our roots and where we come from.

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Prior to the closing, there was so much of culture and festivity that happened not only in the designated venue for Hornbill Festival but spread across several other venues, villages, camps and cafes. There is no mistake that there was music everywhere. Right in the heart of the festival to the quiet cafes in Kohima town, bustling with live performances for a change. I really think the Task Force for Music & Arts (TaFMA) has brilliantly brought together musicians and artistes across different genres and placed them in all the right places, doing the right shows.

There were many aspects of the Naga story that were highlighted in different forms and events as part of the 10-day festival, with many new features also being added to the 20th edition of Hornbill festival this year.

Among the many things that happened, one of the new concepts that I liked this year was the initiative of Gugu Kuotsu along with two of her friends — Ato Richa and Medo Kense — who conceptualised ‘Retouch: A tour of hands on traditional craftsmanship’ and drew the attention of hundreds of visitors, keen to learn about the ancestral handicrafts.

At a time when many Naga children grow up in a different environment with limited access to traditional practices unlike the olden times, an initiative like this was very resourceful to help them learn these valuable practices, which are all still relevant today. Very interestingly, I was told that as one of the outcomes of the initiative, two brothers — a seven-year-old boy and an 11-year-old boy from Scotland crafted their own bamboo mugs and spoons and were elated to take those works of their hands back to their homeland.

One of my personal favourites would also be the Tetseo Sisters’ Box Office Show, a first of its kind that ran twice a day for nine consecutive days during the 10-day festival. If you grew up listening to your grandparents narrating stories to you, sitting around the fireside, then their show reminded you of your childhood and made you think of how precious those storytelling moments were.

The Show heartwarmingly began with a cow herder song of their grandmother with Mercy Tetseo, the eldest of the sisters, narrating how as a young girl, their grandmother tended to cattles, and that the song talks about how even in the dark woods or dark moments, if you have a song, you’ll never be alone.’ For every song and every tune, there was an uplifting story that they shared and I guess, that made all the difference.

When you see them on stage along with their parents and their only brother — Mhaseve, telling you stories and singing for you, one can imagine the Naga life with such vividness. As somebody who loves the idea of storytelling, this box office show had it all.

(Vishü Rita Krocha is a poet, author and a journalist by profession with experience in the field for over 10 years. She also runs a home-based publication house called PenThrill Publication House. Views expressed are her own)

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