Thursday, July 7, 2011

That first research trip to Nagaland

In 2008 a group of four foreigners was required for the application for a Restricted Area Permit which permitted a two week stay in Nagaland.  It is difficult to find compatible companions ready to visit a remote and troubled area, but at last I was able to assemble a group that included family, a member of the Adivasi Arts Trust and a French woman with a passion for tribal art.  The officer at Nagaland House in Delhi where we submitted our application for the permit was from the Konyak tribe, and when he heard that we wanted to go in April, he suggested a visit to his home district, Mon, in the northern part of the state for Aoling, the main festival of the Konyaks.  It was certainly a challenge to get there - we flew from Delhi to Guwahati, continued by train to Simalguri and then by road into Nagaland, to reach Mon. 
The Konyaks are the largest tribe amongst the Nagas, with a population estimated at 40,000.   Many of them also live in Myanmar, as the district shares an international boundary.  The first impression of Mon is of a desolate place with limited accommodation for visitors, poor roads and not much infrastructure or communication with the outside world.  It was also very cold at night, and tramping up and down the high street in the rain, we wondered what to do.  But then the festivities began, and people suddenly adorned themselves with their traditional jewelry and accessories, and for a first time visitor it was a spectacle.  Based in a simple, overbooked guesthouse in Mon Town, we made excursions to Wakching, Shangyu and Longwa, and the focus was to research culture by meeting people, taking photographs and absorbing the atmosphere.  The Konyaks are known for their skills in wood carving, and as the characters of the animation film will be inspired by sculptures, it was also our mission to see as many as possible.  There was interest in the animation project amongst those we met, but it was so far removed from daily existence, and so we decided to visit the capital, Kohima, to make connections with people engaged in culture.  The story I liked was apparently from the Angami tribe residing in Kohima District, so at the end of Aoling, we exited Nagaland, took the long road back through Assam and re-entered at Dimapur in the south; this was the recommended route, as the roads in Nagaland are in such poor condition and public transport is infrequent. 

Kohima is a hill station and it is surprisingly large.  We moved into a cheap lodge close to the bus stand as we had a lot of luggage (I had brought all the equipment I needed for animation film screenings, intending  to share a collection of animated tribal folktales from Central India with youth if the opportunity arose.)

It is always a good idea to do some initial research before making a field trip, and I had identified a few contacts in Kohima.  While we were there we met  a storyteller (Thomas Rengma) who was able to confirm that the tale was indeed from the Angami community, and we also met various others involved in cultural activities and made a visit to the State Museum and to a couple of Angami villages close by. 

Before leaving Nagaland I was able to establish links with the North East Zone Culture Centre and with Sentila Yanger who runs a local organization called Tribal Weave.  Sentila was interested in a Capacity Building workshop in Animation for Naga youth and I left her with a proposal that she would submit for funding from the State Government.

I have written extensively about that first trip to Nagaland and you can read more about it here:

1 comment:

  1. All the information and photos you shared in this blog is really amazing wonderful . Thanks for sharing your experience and photos with us. keep posting like this. Car rental in India