Mike Taverner’s reflections on a day in the Naga hills, November 2013
I couldn’t wait to get up at first light to continue my exploration of the village and return to my homestay for a sticky Naga breakfast. It was sunny but bracing as I made my way down through the marvellously carved and painted thick gate through the village wall. It gave me pause to reflect that in a not-to-far distant time this village had been wiped out by both British and Indians in their efforts to control Nagaland, this important but almost unknown part of the world was where some of the most critical battles in WWII were fought.
As I descended the steps, I passed several beautifully-formed stone platforms perfect for a chat and rest as locals made their way up with bags of rice, wood etc on their back. The vista was superb with terraces for cropping so artfully cut into the valley. Once down on the terraces I made my way past groups of standing stones – mostly grouped in lots of seven stones standing from a few cms to several metres in height. It is in these stone arrangements and nearby Christian graves that we see the blend of ancient animism and widespread Christianity.
I wandered for about 30min enjoying the clean cool air and the steep forested hills surrounding the valley where we walked yesterday. Rather than returning directly I climbed up through the heart of our homestay village of Khonoma. I was not the first person abroad and I enjoyed some very friendly encounters including one old fellow who invited me into his kitchen to sit by his fire and enjoy a cup of chai. With helpful long views to assist my navigation, I made my way through the narrow lanes and stairways, always enjoying the houses, the people, the simple daily chores and the wonderful surrounding hills.
Back in the kitchen of my homestay, I learned a few more valuable words of the local Angami language – including ‘sato’ meaning ‘I want more’ of that sticky Naga breakfast. My teacher was young Mezilley who was shy but as he was busy boiling up the pig’s food I was able to engage with him before he took off.
After two nights with this family I would have happily settled in, but today we travel a short distance to Kohima, the capital city of Nagaland. The city looks close as the crow flies, but we had to wind our way along the ridges and through the hills and a trip of less than 5km took us 2 hours. But this included several stops along the way – a beautiful sunny morning and fabulous views across the hills. Furthermore, all along the way are fascinating monuments to Nagas that have fallen in their battles with the Indians.
We did not stop in Kohima but drove straight through to the Naga Heritage Village of Kisama and the increasingly famous Festival of Festivals, the Hornbill Festival. As we made our way into the site the program had begun and there were thunderous blasts from the arena. It was our Angami friends re-enacting a head hunting expedition with huge rifles and very real-looking heads on their belts. What an introduction!
This afternoon and over the three days of our time at the festival, we marvelled at the spectacle of nearly 20 tribes and sub-tribes from Nagaland as they appeared in their astounding traditional outfits. These outfits variously displayed the famously bright and attractive Naga textiles but also the wonderful bodies of the near-naked Nagas as they danced and performed.
The attractions at the Festival were not confined to the main arena as 16 of the larger tribal groups had inhabited houses created in traditional designs. I loved wandering around these houses as the Nagas prepared and practiced for their performances and basically had a great time together. It felt very special to be in amongst all these warriors. What’s more, at most of these morungs, local food was served often with local rice or apple wine.
By the time we’d reached our hotel that night, my mind was buzzing with images and memories.