Hope you have a tall cup of coffee ready because this is going to be lots of irresistible informational dump happening in today’s topic (for all the hornbill festival enthusiasts who are planning on travelling to Nagaland to attend this 10 day festival that is going to be a cultural extravaganza of a lifetime).
Honestly we at NE Origins believe that the state of Nagaland has done a super commendable job at opening up and showcasing their culture to the entire world in the best way there can be to do so; and for that we applaud them because what a truly beautiful concept this is, the Hornbill Festival. For today, let’s travel to the far eastern region in the north of India to a state called Nagaland.
A state that was home to so much mystery in the past had finally opened up since the year 2000. Ever since in the winters, 10 days of the month is dedicated to welcoming, merrymaking and opening up more and more to the thousands of visitors that the state receives every year during the festival. The state is home to really vividly vast cultures and people from 16 tribes who passionately guard their rich cultures and traditions. Traditions of warrior mentality, of the head hunters, of the land of honey, of the mountains, the dense forests and the valleys basically everything on could imagine as soon as the word NAGALAND is uttered.
Nonetheless it was a long journey from being shrouded by mystery to completely opening up to the world within a time frame of 10 days. The festival has helped the people of Nagaland sew their names on the list of the best international festivals of the world along with etching themselves on the map of top tourist destinations.
Best time to visit the state
Between the months of October to May mark the best months of the year to visit the state because of how lush and green the foliage gets in the meadows, as the flowers cover the green valleys and as the brightest skies light up the cloudless night skies, Nagaland is at her most handsome best during this time. It is only befitting that the Hornbill Festival take place within these months.
Flora and fauna of Nagaland
In a more traditional sense the culture of Nagaland is mostly about hunting and foraging, but with the extensive awareness and information that was brought about to the people, it is now a thriving land full of exotic flora as well as fauna species that are a sight to sore eyes. For example, the rare Blyth’s Tragopan (Tragopan blythii) has found its home in the state and travellers can sight this artistic bird around ever-so-often.
The vibrant tribes of Nagaland
With a population of around 1.9 million, which is a lot of people in a single state as compared to the population of other Indian states, the 1.9 million people are divided into 16 major tribes of the state. The grandeur of Nagaland’s culture lies in how successfully and richly these 16 tribes have been able to maintain a happening cultural ecosystem for themselves to live with and all in harmony. Each of these tribes enjoys domination over one of the major or minor 12 districts of the state.
During the festival, these tribes come together in the spirit of social bonding, welcoming, high spirits and purification. These are the ideals that construct the building blocks of all the 16tribes and in the festival these are exactly the qualities that are put out there in the festivals combines with their general zeal for a prideful life, the Hornbill festival is the symbol of everything that is great about Nagaland.
The following are the 16 tribes that you will get to know and learn about during Hornbill Festival 2021:
This tribe celebrates its biggest festival called the Sekrenyi festival on the 25th day of the Angami month of Kezei. This festival is high on spirits of purification, feasting and singing. The main highlight of the festival is the event of Thekra Hie, this is when the village youth gather and sing traditional songs all through the day accompanied by singing.
This tribe celebrates its largest festival called the Moatsu Mong after newly sowing their fields. The festival is celebrated with a huge amount of singing, dancing and the customary making the best rice beer fit to compete. The best pork and beef is slaughtered and cooked on this day. The women dress in their best traditional fineries as they join the men of the tribe in singing and composing warrior songs. The rest of the village folk sing songs of eulogy for lovers. The elders of the village sing song to encourage the entire tribe youth to be bold, heroic and protective about the tribe in case of enemies like back in the Headhunting days.
This tribe celebrates the Tokhu Emong which is a harvest festival that is celebrated by the entire village coming together. Each and every house in the village is expected to prepare foods and drinks for the families and the friends and the neighbours who visit each other’s homes during the festival that goes on for days at stretch. The main events are always fun, frolic, dancing traditional dances, singing cultural songs and feasting on the best foods that were harvested that season.
In the spring time, a new year starts for the tribe, activities that involve entertainment and sports commence after the harvest is done and start to finish by the time of Tsukhenye Festival. The entire festival happens for four days. On the first morning of this festival, the priest of the village starts by sacrificing a Rooster. The men then head to a designated well where they bathe to purify themselves. They then invoke upon the almighty for a long life and strength and for a good harvest the coming year.
The changes have a unique connection with the Lotha, Ao, Yimchungru, Sema, Sangtam, Phom and some of the other southern Naga tribes according to legends. The Changs bond amongst them during a festival called the Naknyulem. They exchange gifts amongst each other along with delicious treats such as wine, freshly baked breads, smoked meats etc. there are a lot of festive activities that are conducted throughout the day; sports like the high jump, long jump, tug-of-war, top spinning and climbing oiled poles and the fan favourite, grabbing huge pieces of cooked meat that is hung in rows along a bamboo rope that is tied at a height. The womenfolk also participate in the competition of the use of the musical instrument called the Kongkhim.
the Kacharis celebrate an auspicious festival called the Bushu or the Buahu Jiba which is an important harvest festival. The festival happens in January although an exact date is not known for the festivities. The festival is celebrated on a full moon’s night.
A bonding festival, the 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.
The forefathers of the Konyak believed they were direct descendants 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Tuluni is the festival celebrating the season of abundance and plentiful, it is observed to seek protection of crops where prayers are offered to the deity “LITSABA” who is considered the giver of fruitfulness. The event is also called “Anni” which means the season of plentiful crops. Another main feature of this festival is the exchange of gifts and hosting of feasts between betrothed couples and their families. The festival is also associated with peace-making and reconciliation.
The Yimkhiung celebrates 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.
- Zeme-Liangmai (Zeliang):
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.
Why is this festival celebrated?
The hornbill festival gets its name from the bird called the hornbill which is an auspicious bird that is widely seen through Naga folk lore and is highly respected. However, ironically, the bird was on the brink of extinction due to over board hunting and killing which is an aspect that is intrinsic to their identity.
Hornbill feathers were used as decoration of Naga warriors’ headgears. The government intervened and offered them the alternative of using the fake feathers instead which was not very successful. But as the saying goes… “Time makes you forget”, the practice of hunting the birds slowly was forgotten and dying for the good. People started becoming more aware and started working towards the preservation of the wildlife in all forms. There was talks happening between the Naga tribal elders and the topic was to preserve the hornbill. This was a way to turn a predator into a preserver.
Naming the festival Hornbill was one of the many steps in that process.
The hornbill festival starts from December 1 that is also the Naga Formation Day. The festival is organized by the State Government and it is to bring together all these 1 tribes on a single platform. In the year 2000 when the festival was first celebrated, there were traditional dances, songs, warrior dances, harvest on display and other folk cultural things. Today it has become so high on energy that people from across the nation, join the festivities by organizing concerts and display of wares from all over the nation, making it all the more vibrant.
Things to look out for in the festival (when you get time out from attending the amazing concert line up this year):
Explore traditional games, folk songs and art works.
Binge on unique and exotic gastronomical options from the plethora of food stalls and local rice beer shops.
If you are up for it try participating in the high energy Naga Chilli (world’s third hottest chilli) eating contest.
Get clicked inside a Morung (if you are granted permission that is). Morungs are auspicious very strictly cultural spaces that are made for boys to truly internalise and learn about their tribes, lends, histories, values, weaponry and other warrior teachings. These spaces are very revered spaces and make sure you take permission before you enter into one of these Morungs.
Within the 10 days’ time, all of the 16 tribes will be out in the festival to display their spirits, attires and accessories, be sure to be clicked with all the 16 tribes’ people and enjoy yourself as you mingle with them.
Be a part of cultural performances and revel in the intricate beauty of everything.
Drink a lot of rice beer.
Tips for you if you are visiting the festival this year:
Since the festival is globally known there will be crowds coming in from all parts of the world. Meaning there may not be a lot of rooms left for you to book if you haven’t already done so. It is best if you book your stay well in advance to avoid all the extra hassle.
Foreigners who have travelled internationally do not require an entry permit to enter Nagaland anymore. However, they may need to register themselves at the Foreigner’s Registration Office (District Superintendent of Police) within 24 hours of their entry into the state.
You can always bargain at the stalls and souvenir shops to get the best deal for any product so make use of that power.
There will be many centres that will be dedicated to providing information to people all over the festival site. You will also find brochures to the upcoming events at these centres so if you are lost, just get yourself to one of these centres to be guided.
The hornbill festival is a modern 21st century creative that came from Nagaland and has now become the event that is recognized globally. The Naga culture is showcased in an array in all its entirety be it in terms of tribes, attires, traditions, cultures, weapons, foods/cuisines, music, dances, warrior dances, modern pop cultural bands gearing up the mood and everything else. This is the reason why some may call it the festival of festivals and a cultural extravaganza. Nowhere in the world will you get to experience something so spectacular about the culture of an entire state so up and close to you. It is truly an EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME.