Part 6 – The Naga Conversations

Two thoughts come to mind when we think Nagaland.

  1. Dog meat
  2. Head hunters

It’s very sad that these are the only things we can think of. Nagas are said to be the one of the bravest of the Indian army. The current chief minister of Nagaland, Neiphiu Rio had been the CM 3 times before. A 13 year old girl started an armed resistance against the British rule in 1929; Rani
Gaidinliu was arrested in 1932 at the age of 16 and was only released in 1947 after the independence of India. There are many Naga football stars including Talimeren Ao in who’s honour the government has released a postal stamp. But do we know any of this? Noooo.. we can only think of dog meat and “violent” head hunting.

Sadly both of these topics are highly misunderstood, misinterpreted and misconstrued. Stereotype dog meat jokes on the Nagas are one thing, but alleging that they feed dog meat to tourists or to anyone without consent is rubbish.

Finding Dogmeat in the famous Shah house of Hyderabad or some hyped restaurant on Indiranagar of Bangalore might be bad. Bad because they sell Dogmeat in the name of mutton. But this doesn’t happen in Nagaland.

In our visit to Kohima, one of our expectation was to see dog meat and other exotic animals for sale in the markets – we missed it. In Kisama, we did see black boards outside Morungs with menus selling dog meat.

The board clearly read:

Local Dog Meat – ₹150

Local Pork – ₹180

Local Beaf – ₹200

So it’s just like ordering salad or juice, just another item of the menu. You order it, you get it – simple.

For dinner we tried a variety of food from a line of eateries – who were all hoteliers from across the state and had set up stalls to serve food at the Hornbill Festival. They were also part of a contest for the best food stall. Choices were abundant, both for veg and non veg. They served grasshoppers; crispy, roasted grasshoppers. I didn’t eat but they asked everyone explicitly for prawn allergies before serving. Of course we also had rice beer in bamboo shoots. I asked our friend from the TV channel if they used the bamboo shoots as a drinking glass at their homes also or was it just for the tourists in restaurants. He wasn’t surprised, he said in the towns we use normal steel, or plastic or coffee mugs – just like everyone, but in villages some traditional people do use the bamboo shoots.

This was followed by some karaoke, the head chef came out and sang too, it seemed like he was very popular. A group if pretty girls – they could be older – got excited and had animated conversations with him. The ladies of Nagaland were by far the prettiest in the north east.

*

Back at the house, it was biting cold. Avin had started a fire outside and there was a group having dinner around it. We said our goodbyes to our friends and went up to the room – which is where Nikie came to enquire about our stay.

Upon seeing us, she realised we had run into her a couple of times in the carnival. After pleasantries, we started talking of the different stalls and activities at the fest. I said I was surprised to see the Indian army put up stalls too. To which she said Nagaland provides a sixth if all soldiers to the Assam rifles. The hornbill festival was a major showcasing platform for the army. Infact there was also a stall from the BSF and another war memorial stall that showed us about the war of Kohima – A world war 2 battle that lasted for nearly 4 months.

Speaking to her was easy, she had done her graduation and post grad at St. Aloysius in Mangalore. She was now doing her PhD in history at Guwahati University. She enlightened us about the myth of head hunting.

The world outside the Naga society thinks it’s a way of living that the Naga tribes go on beheading and collecting heads of their rivals. While it’s true that tribes get into conflicts and the Nagas have beheaded each other, they don’t collect heads and it’s definitely not a tradition to behead one another. The Nagas too are victims of the British misconstrue. When the British and other exploiters came to Nagaland through Myanmar, like any natives the Nagas resisted, and to de-legitimise their claims the Nagas were made to look evil, violent and dangerous.

The girl had seemed like a carefree “girl from the north east” who ran to the beaches. She looked so different now. We were left with a sudden realisation of our ignorance as she made her way back to her room.

The fire was still burning and the other group – who were a bunch of consultants looking to get students to their colleges from the North east – had gone, so we went down to sit by the fire. Avin, who we thought was the caretaker was there sat with us. We were to find that he was an artist, a sculpture, he worked different jobs and had come to Delhi in 2017 to work with the media for a sporting event. He was now taking care of this property for the winter and had plans of going up to Guwahati or Delhi in the summer.

We had heard him stum on his guitar, so we asked if he could play for us, he wasn’t shy, he played the guitar and RJ – my other travel companion sang. It was a nice soothing end to the night. Realisation of our ignorance on one side, and understanding of the Naga way by these casual conversations on the other. Both had left us yearning for Nagaland.

*

We left the next morning, took a rather bad and lengthy drive to Mao Gate in Manipur, switched cabs and passed through some towns that ended with -oan, except for Senapati. We ATM-ed at Senapati, bought some water and headed to Imphal. That’s where we saw hoardings about something called Sangai Fest in Manipur. Its an annual festival in of Manipur – just like the Hornbill of Nagaland. It happens in the last week of November – so you could go-to Manipur in the last week of November, experience the Sangai feat and then come to Nagaland in December for the Hornbill. Make it happen!

~*~

Also read: Part 5 – Nagaland

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