Hornbill festival (Naga heritage village, Kohima, Nagaland)

This is a travelogue on visit to the annual hornbill festival held in Kohima. This trip was a part of Textile and bio diversity trail organised by exotic echo. (Contactexoticecho@gmail.com)

In a NUtshell:

A one of its kind showcase of culture, lifestyle and food of the different Naga tribes at one location – unmissable first time experience but might get repetitive on multiple visits.

Short description- in case u r in a hurry

Hornbill festival was started by the state government of Nagaland in year 2000 to bring together all tribes of Nagaland into one common cultural platform and to reach out to the world to come and soak in the Naga culture and traditions.

For the non Indian readers, Nagaland is a state in the north east of india and most of this region is inhabited by the People from different Naga tribes. As of 2012, there were 16 officially recognised Naga tribes. The different tribes have multiple languages and dialects. Nagamese is a common language that they speak but this language does not have a script and English is the official language of the state.

All the Naga tribes have a warrior tradition. Their lifestyle , food, music, dance, dressing up were influenced by the warrior traditions. For the whole of 1800s till as late as 1969, they had the practice of ‘head hunting’ where the head of an enemy was considered a trophy.

Most people of the region converted to Christianity due to constant visits by missionaries. Currently 90% + population of the state is Christian.

The festival

The hornbill festival is named after a bird hornbill which appears in folklore of many Naga tribes.

The festival takes place at naga heritage village in kohima, a mountain city, which is the capital of Nagaland. We did a one day trip to hornbill festival from a village near Dimapur, where Loinloom festival happened. Dimapur is in plains and has connectivity thru air and train. On the contrary, there is no train or air connectivity to kohima.

So guests to the festival have no choice but to drive to kohima. Roads are a disaster. One of the worst I have travelled in india in last few years. Stay in kohima gets expensive at this time due to the sudden influx of too many people in few days. Infrastructure is at its worst too.

However, once inside the hornbill festival premises, it is a wonder. One forgets all the trouble that happened in reaching here.

The festival has curated performances by all the tribes in the main festival ground – the background of the performers (tribes), their customs and the background of the performance was bring beautifully explained in English by an able commentator.

There are permanent, full size replicas of the huts of different tribes. These huts were manned by people of the respective tribes, who were happily telling us the way of life of people of the tribe.

In some huts they were selling their respective tribal food too.

There were performances in front of some huts. The environment was stunning. Felt like being in a different world in a different time zone.

There were competitions for the tribes and others at the festival – we saw a naga chilly eating competition.

A rock fest (hornbill international rock contest) also happens during the hornbill festival in which bands from all over come to participate and win prizes. ‘Perfect strangers’ band from Bangalore won the 2018 title.

There were 50+ shops inside the festival campus selling traditional naga products from garments to bamboo utensils to decorative pieces to food items.

Absolutely loved our visit to a Horticulture festival in the heritage village.

Detailed description – in case u hv the time to njoy reading:

As we entered the heritage village, it was a welcome relief from the harrowing ride from dimapur. The village is very well maintained and one has to walk up a slope to reach the main activity area.

At the beginning of the walk itself, was the horticultural exhibition cum sale. There was an open area with showcase of different edible vegetable, fruit plants and also some decorative Plants. There were 3 of every variety of plant – each with a rank beside (1st, 2nd etc). I remember seeing ‘consolation prize’ as well. This gave us a nice peek into the vegetables and fruits of this region.

We also ate some fab pineapple and drank freshly squeezed orange juice from the farm.

Mushrooms had been brought here in the way they grow in nature.

There were beautiful flower plants and decorative plants with colourful leaves.

We then walked up to the main festival ground. It was a round stadium kind of arrangement with stepped seating on 80% of the circle. The rest 20% of the circle had 2 entrances on two sides and a large stage in the middle.

The commentator was explaining in English, the culture of the tribe, before every performance. He was then giving a brief on the performance, the context etc. This commentary helped the tourists understand the details of the dance and hence enjoy them more. I Wud say the commentator did a brilliant job.

We saw about 5-6 performances. One of them was about a tribe who were the first to use gunpowder. They enacted a situation where they hunted using a gun.

Another tribe had a very interesting way of catching fish – they would put a certain kind of plant extract to water and fish would jump out of the water.

One tribe described how the young people of the tribe mingle with each other during festive times .

Another one was a performance of a traditional song sung during tilling.

The tools Were mostly axe, spear and other sharp instruments. One tribe used guns. catapult sling seemed to be a common tool for killing birds – it was selling in abundance in the stalls.

Among the food in the stalls were Silk worm pickle, Locally made wine, Naga spices & super hot Naga pepper called Bhut jalokia

Food that we had at hornbill festival

Horticultural exhibition area

The pineapple at the horticultural exhibition Was Excellent – sweet and super juicy pineapple chunks. I almost never had that good in india. The girl at the pineapple shop suggested to have the pineapple with the chilly and salt but I loved having it as it is – only for ₹10 per piece.

Super loved the Freshly squeezed juice of locally produced Orange. No additions of sweet or salt. Just perfectly sweet n sour. The man was making the juice from a small hand held machine.

Replica Village area

The first thing we tasted was Locally made rice beer and dry pork curry at angami tribe hut at the festival

This was the best pork of the trip. It was super soft, smokey , had the right proportion of fat and outstanding taste of the dry gravy.

The pork here was smoked for a long time, this softening it and also giving it a smoky flavor. Smoking of pork was happening inside the hut.

After smoking the pork was being hung on the kitchen wall and was taken off before cooking.

Rice was being de husked in traditional way

We were happy drinking the Outstanding rice beer. Must say that the rice beer brewed by Ms. Lakhiprobha Deori at majuli was way better.

we quite liked a dried bean that had to be just popped in the mouth – like bhel. It was seasoned with chillies and salt.

The black puffed rice was crisp and nice.

We also took a buffet lunch with lot of interesting food in it.

The lunch was served on banana leaf atop a natural material plate. Naga red rice, fermented chicken rice, pork with greens, pork curry, dog meat.

We also tried pig entrails dry curry & a lovely piping hot soup with bamboo shoots in it, served in a bamboo cup.

Fermented chicken rice was kind of sticky rice, slightly slimy and had a fermented feel to it. Very different flavors than what I have ever tried before. Chicken pieces were broken and small as if someone had pounded them. Liked the experience.

We enjoyed the Lovely piping hot soup with bamboo shoot and pork. It was served in a bamboo cup. Refreshing, strong flavors of bamboo shoot and pork. Awesome.

Naga red rice was thick, short and a bit chewy , yet soft. The best part of this rice was that it was unpolished and hence did not sit for long in the stomach , unliked the polished long basmati.

Pork cooked with greens had very nice flavors. The pork pieces were ok though. These were from big pigs with loads of fat. What I loved eating were the greens soaked in full bodied piggy flavors. The meat pieces themselves were avoidable.

New addition to my culinary experience – dog meat – very different from both pork or goat meat. Was a bit chewy. Was cooked with the skin (like pork is) and was overall very tasty

Super loved this pig entrails dry curry – very different from the one we had at International Loinloom Festival exotic echo homestAy. The one at the homestAy was made with pig blood and was surely better and the best I have ever had. The one here was cooked with spices only.

To summarise – a memorable cultural and culinary experience

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