The Hornbill Festival is an annual celebration of Nagaland’s 16 tribes and their rich cultural heritage. We partake in the festivities with the locals, and discover the nightlife of the Nagas. By Sayan Hazra
The word ‘Nagaland’ brings to mind a surreal image. Landscapes—mountains, valleys, and forests—shrouded in mystery; and vibrant locals—dancers, warriors, former headhunters—
zealously guarding their traditions.
The state was put on the world map when the Hornbill Festival was conceptualised in 2000. A celebration of the Naga way of life, the festival is where every indigenous tribe holds up
its culture for the entire world to see. It’s little wonder that it derives its name from a bird that features prominently in the folklore of most of the tribes. Last year, the festival took place from December 1 to 10, at Naga Heritage Village, Kisama.
The state is inhabited by 16 tribes, each unique in character with its own distinct customs, language, dresses, and festivals. Spirits, fertility, social bonding, and purification form the essence of these Naga festivals. The Hornbill Festival is designed to showcase glimpses
of all these myriad festivities.
Also, on the menu here are sumptuous local meals. During the festival, each tribe serves its traditional cuisine in its respective morung (youth dormitory) inside Kisama Village. An ideal staple meal consists of a meat dish, a boiled vegetable dish or two, rice, and a spicy chutney. Nagas tend to prefer boiled organic leaves. Dishes like fermented bamboo shoot with fish and pork, and axone (soyabean boiled, fermented, and smoked or sun-dried) with smoked pork and beef, are common. Naga chillies have a reputation of making the most macho man cry.
The beating of log drums and a strident war cry echoes among the hills as the participants, clad in their respective traditional attire, march into the stadium every day. While the tribal
performances are the centerpiece, what is less known to outsiders is the nightlife of the Hornbill Festival. As the sun sets and tourists leave the grounds, local youths relish foreign liquor and zutho (rice beer) with equal zest, as loud music drowns the silence of the night. Different tribes have their own flavours of zutho, the Angami version being the most famous. Extraordinary preparations, such as fried silkworms, bamboo worms, boiled baby frogs, hornets, dried rats, and eel fish are served. If you want an authentic tribal experience, don’t retire for the day with the dancers; stay on and revel with the nocturnal creatures.