Welcome to Nagaland
16 shades of bravery and 16 warrior tribes, are what you would find in Nagaland. Where valour is measured by the numbers of feathers in the warriors’ headgears or once upon a time, the number of hunted scalps worn as a necklace. The traditional ceremonial attire of each tribe is a clarion call. Starting with the distinct shawls home woven and with indigenous dye and motifs, with each tribe having its patent style. Among many tribes the design of the shawl denotes the social status of the wearer. Then come along the multi-coloured spears and Dao machetes decorated with dyed goat’s hair, the headgear made of finely woven bamboo interlaced with orchid stems, adorned with wild boar’s teeth and hornbill feathers, elephant tusk armlets – In full gear suffice to say that they are as vibrant and winsome as the state bird, the proud Blyth’s Tragopan.
The word Naga is believed to have been borne of the Burmese word “Naka” which means the race with the perforated ears and hints at the practice of using wooden lugs as earrings. As warriors, one of their golden moments was during the British rule, in 1944, when the Nagas with unhindered courage and intelligence helped the British beat down nearly 13000 Japanese soldiers from present day, state capital – Kohima. The site of one of the war’s bloodiest battles, Garrison Hill, now has a War Cemetery with memorials to martyred soldiers. Many of these casualties were Nagas (mostly belonging to the Angami tribe). The only Naga grave at the cemetery is that of 21 year old Saliezhu Angami with an epitaph that reads, “The big-minded warring youngest son of mine shall arise and shine like a star.”
The unbowed tall perch of this state complements the fierce pride of these warriors whose ancestry can be traced back to Indo – Mongoloid stock. The spoken language “Nagamese” was developed as a lingua franca to facilitate the market and trade between the hill tribes of Nagaland and the plains of Assam. With 16 different tribes and numerous dialects, it helped to have a common lingo.
High mountains, deep gorges, emerald valleys, twisty streams and exotic flora and fauna round up the travel bug’s bucket list. Pangolins, porcupines, barking deer, buffalo, tigers, leopards and elephants share forests, clearings and riverbeds with monkeys, wild dogs and rare reptiles and birds.
Being sensitive territory, Nagaland requires domestic tourists to obtain the Inner Line Permit. Separated from Myanmar (Burma) in the west by the Saramati mountain and fringed by Assam and Arunachal Pradesh on the North and East, Nagaland is an enigmatic destination. Where today martial headgears might just compete with the millennials and their stereophonic headgears. It’s a growing Mecca of Rock music and the annual Hornbill festival, it’s war cry in the cultural space. And yes, music here is soul curry. Folk songs eulogize ancestors and their tall deeds, poetic love songs immortalize tragic love-lores and gospel songs touch your soul.
And more often than not, you come away from Nagaland and its splendor, with a song on your lips and tales of the warriors. Often 16 times over.