December, 1-10, 2016 and every December, in the first week of the month since 2000. All roads and traffic, it appears, lead to one destination, covering miles of winding serpentine hills, serene, rejuvenating scenery, abundant flora and bamboo trees reaching-up to touch the skies, wild flowers and the excited anticipation of traveling beyond known paths and discovered beauty to a place unique in its heritage, its culture and its celebration of life. The travelers on these inviting-roads are all headed for the one and only, Hornbill Festival, in Nagaland. The ultimate, exotic destination and get-away from the known world, to embark unto a journey deep within. Some of us, “loose ourselves” and some of us, “find ourselves and some others, “meet ourselves for the first time!”.
The Indian Hornbill is a large, brilliant colored bird that is celebrated in the imagery of the many tribes of Nagaland and this festival of the peoples of Nagaland, that come from distinct tribes, has been named after this common, well-celebrated image. All tribes participate dutifully, as dictated by custom in this festival and their regard for festivity, celebration, community participation and ritual is truly inspiring and infectious. There are a wide range of sports-games, varieties of local Naga foods, Indigenous music, Herbals and Natural products, Handmade, carved gorgeous objects of wood, fabulous tribal masks, Jewellery, paintings and art in the form of sculpture.
The beauty lies in the inclusivity of the Naga people. The festival welcomes performing bands for rock music and now hosts the International Hornbill Rock Music that music lovers and musicians alike travel to. All are welcome to join this festival of culture and joyous expression.
The orchestration of traditional colors, motifs, weaves, patterns, adornment and order is striking. The Reds, Whites, Black, rich colors are simply magnificent. The colors and the various types of garments, their patterns, the weave and embroidery all hold a significance and communicate the place of the individual in the tribe. The elaborate, perfectly balanced headgear, in symmetrical patterns and colors and the adornments on the ankles, wrists, arms and various other parts of the person, all have meaning.
Tribal costumes, jewellery and even tattoos are all a deeply symbolic expression of the tribe and the place of the individual in it. All within a context and in reference to their environment and Nature. The simplicity and honesty offers a sharp contrast to the ways of the world most of us now inhabit where variety and change is the trend and conformity and tradition, a thing of the past we’ve chosen to turn away from. This deeply personal expression within the framework of a community, communicates a beauty of the free-spirit and the unfettered-soul of these tribes that inspire by example.
In a moment of irony, in my humble efforts to promote the crafts and culture of Nagaland, India’s precious well-hidden gem, I found myself engaging in the possibility on encouraging locals to bring their unique crafts and talents online for the rest of humanity to enjoy and celebrate this rich expression of cultural diversity.
How does one create a balance while promoting indigenous peoples with their unique identities yet maintaining a healthy respect for the non-consumer centric choice of life they stand for? Does one need to be concerned about a potential cultural impact? The answer stares me back in the face. This hidden gem of a community that expresses itself through symbolism and ritual, their feet dancing in perfect harmony with all feet of their tribes, to the haunting beats of their drums, do so in an abandonment that is rooted in tradition and custom. Perhaps a tiny bit of that valuable quality will infuse itself via their crafts into the fabric of our heterogeneous world.
The first week of December, every year, Kohima, Nagaland, India. Put it on your list of things to do and places to go. Time flies.