Hornbill Festival is celebrated from December 1st to December 7th. I arrived in Kohima on the 4th of December and so missed some of the most exciting events. But nevertheless the 7 day festival was nicely sorted out with interesting events for each day. The tribal lifestyle and Morung were daily exhibits and most visitors found that the most entertaining. Just sipping rice beer around the fire and watching the tribal go about their business could be a lot more than one presumed.
The War Memorial Museum is a rather huge building that housed relics of the past. It is one of the only buildings built with concretes. Dedicated to the ‘Battle of Kohima,’ the museum houses guns, pots-pans, artillery and uniforms all used during the Second World War fought between the Japanese and the British. It is a great place for people interested in knowing more about the history of the war. There are separate entry fees for the museum.
The Bamboo Pavilion is like a small mall that sells everything; mostly handicraft products. Nagas are known for their colorful art. Even with their limited equipment, Naga’s make some of the best wooden decors and necklace products. It is also here that you’ll get to meet writers in their own pavilions. If you are lucky enough you can get autographed books at their stalls. Lately it has become customary to release books at the festival. Well known Naga Writers like Easterine Kire and Temsula Ao have released their books at the festival. The festival creates a platform for artists, writers, musicians, businessmen and so on. The bamboo pavilion is made entirely of bamboo and is the main souvenir shop. It tries to give you the complete Naga package.
At Kisama Heritage Village each participating tribe has their own Morung. And true to their essence they eat, sing folk songs and dance in the Morung. There are around 16 major tribes in Nagaland and most of these tribes have their own Morung at the Heritage village. The purpose of building a Morung is to display their tribal lifestyle while giving visitors the opportunity to interact and be part of that tribe. Each Morung also has its own restaurant which serves their specific tribal delicacy.
A non Naga friend of mine simply put it this way, ‘Nagas eat anything that moves.’ It was meant to be a sarcastic comment, but when it comes to the Naga choice of food, it’s partly true, but there might also be a new trend to the food choices. The Naga Hills were once dense and possessed treasures of fauna and flora, but deforestation and decades of hunting have left them with nothing much. Now it’s hard to find big game like bear, deer, wild boar etc. Hence, Nagas are turning to smaller animals which were never eaten before.
At the heritage village one can try out all sorts of food; pork, beef and chicken are common and more popular food items along with the famed rice beer served in bamboo. But one can easily find uncommon food, like dried squirrel soup, freshly cooked frog, fried silk worm larvae and many weird things you wouldn’t have heard off, let alone put in your mouth. Nagas are discovering weird things to eat; many of these new discoveries are tested out by foreigners and local tourists. It is not necessarily true that Nagas have eaten all of them, but to boost tourism the Nagas are now ready to serve anything that moves; anything weird.
I was lucky to witness some freestyle wrestling, Naga style. Wrestling is one of the few sports that has survived to this day. I was surprised to see a foreigner in his 40’s among the participants. He did better than I thought he would and survived the initial rounds and seemed to know a few tricks but was later overpowered by the raw energy of the youngsters. In ancient Naga tradition wrestling matches were organized during festivals to display strength and manhood; their biggest pride.
The festival was organized in such a way that no part of the day was wasted. In the afternoon I watched folk dances accompanied by singing at the small open air theater.
The best part about being in the festival though is going from one Morung to another experiencing different tribal cultures and traditions. It was so good to be able to sit around a fire and listen to them sing folk songs. The strange intonation and music just transported me into another era and place.
At the Morung one also gets to see the daily ordeals of people. Every Naga house has a mortar for grinding paddy, these are displayed in most Morungs.
Late in the evening I climbed up to the top of the village, for a last glimpse. The place looked surreal and out of this world. There were people of all races and countries in the same village. This would have been unimaginable a few decades ago. Today the Hornbill Festival is one of the fastest growing festivals in India.