The setting and the mood was just right for me to go back in time and imagine the era of Naga head hunting days. Heads were collected as trophies and there was a lot of pride about it. Standing at the Chang Morung, I saw a robe hanging down from the ceiling with three dummy heads strung on it. Christian missionaries and Christianity have been instrumental in completely putting the head hunting culture to an end. Head hunting was in the thick of Naga culture and customs. A renowned warrior commands more respect and also wears a more complete costume, including facial tattoo in some tribes. Their beliefs go beyond this life. They believed in ‘after-life’. They also believed that men who have reaped more heads would be wealthier, who could also keep those men as slaves.
Today the Nagas are at the risk of losing their rich culture and tradition to modernization. The Nagas have changed so much within so little time. The change is devastating. Youngsters have picked up western culture and way of living. To keep the tradition alive is a constant battle.
The organizers of Hornbill Festival have successfully blended old traditions and cultures with the contemporary trend to get attention from youngsters. It is one important factor for the success of the festival.
People from mainland India have the wrong notion that every Naga sings plays a guitar. It is not the case but speaking in general, Nagas do have the nose for music. Nagaland has produced some fine bands and singers like Alobo Naga, Alowanth and Tetseo Sisters. One big attraction for youngsters and music lovers is the performance from these big bands and also the annual Hornbill Nation Rock contest which awards up to Rs.5 lakhs for the winning band. Music is an integral part of the festival.
Most towns in the North East sleep early; the shutters down with the sun. Kohima is no exception, but the Hornbill Festival makes it an exception. You’ve not seen half of Kohima if you haven’t seen the buzzing Kohima Night Bazaar. It is not much of a shopping bazaar but more of a place where people hang out with friends and eat out. The road is closed to traffic and the street is lined with makeshift restaurants and shops on both sides. For a half kilometer or so, the road brimmed with heads. The atmosphere was electric. The best thing about the night bazaar is its jovial atmosphere. This is a new trend and the popularity is fast spreading. On normal nights, parents would stop their kids from going out, but for this market, parents bring their kids out.
Kohima looks like a peaceful town, which has not known feuds. A friend of mine said, ‘Kohima doesn’t get better than this, not even during Christmas.’ During Christmas people go home to their own villages to be with their families, but for the Hornbill Festival, people travel from their villages to be part of this extravaganza. That is one of the reasons why all hotels are booked. The rush that Kohima witnesses during the Hornbill Festival comprises not only of foreign tourists, but domestic tourists as well. Kohima bears a silent look during Christmas; this festival is just like an anticlimax.
Hornbill Festival is changing the way India looks at Nagaland. From an insurgency affected state, Nagaland has slowly changed into a beautiful hill inhabited by fun loving Nagas.