The huge arena right in the middle with all the tribes showing their traditional skillset is as much fascinating as the tribal people sitting on the sideline waiting for their turn to perform. Though the festival is full of many exciting competitions, I have to admit that the Bamboo stilt walking competition was something that I had never seen anywhere before. Anyway, I decided to take some time off from watching the performances to talk to the tribes and getting to know them better.
The Sangtam tribe was the first group of people I talked to. This tribe is based mainly in the Kiphire and Tuensang region of Nagaland. Though originally shifting cultivators, the Sangtams have now moved on to more stable forms of livelihood. I noticed an interesting contrast in the male and female traditional attires of this tribe and though red was the dominant color in both the types of attires, the accessories were remarkably different. The men wore neckpieces made of teeth of wild pig while for women the neckpieces and the earrings were both more delicate and tussle-like.
The next group of people I talked to was this very sweet couple from the Sumi tribe who were all smiles in welcoming my questions. The Sumi tribe is one of the major tribes of Nagaland coming from the Zunheboto district though now you would find Sumis spread far and wide in the state. The tribe has a rather interesting history to it which would help you to understand their traditional attire even better. Before the arrival of the Christian missionaries and the tribes’ resultant conversion into Christianity, they were headhunters engaged in fierce battles. The couple I talked to had the man carrying a huge spear in his hand while his wife held a thick wooden baton. She also had worn a skirt made of beads which she said was something worn by Sumi women to protect themselves from enemies.
I also tried to talk to a rather shy man from the Ao tribe but it ended up being a funny and futile attempt at an interview. The man just kept on giggling before I even began asking anything! I had to give up after several failed attempts at talking to him and I decided to do some digging myself. Did you know the Ao tribes were the first people of Nagaland to embrace Christianity? Well, I sure did not know this interesting tidbit. Also, the Aos are known for their multiple harvest festivals held throughout the year. Maybe the next time I should try visiting their harvest festival and get to know a bit more about the tribe.
All of the walking, talking, and exploring was starting to make my stomach churn with hunger. Though to be honest, this probably also had something to do with the inviting aromas coming from the numerous tribal food stalls. Growing up in Nagaland has made me a huge fan of Naga cuisine and I can guarantee you that the dishes that you get in this state are something that you will find nowhere else. This is one cuisine that I can relish all day and every day and while in Nagaland, I never even venture into trying out any North Indian dishes.
To give you a brief about the traditional Naga cuisine: it is variability and simplicity at its best with super spicy chillies being the heart of every meal here. Generally what you will find is either smoked, fermented, or dried meat served with sticky rice and a host of spicy sauces. Nagas love their Pork meat (and it’s a good thing that I do too!) and bamboo shoots, dried fish, and soybeans form the other important part of their meal. I decided to go for the Lotha cuisine for lunch and my host explained to me all about the dishes on offer. I ordered chicken with dried bamboo shoots and pork curry with some spicy dried fish and chillies chutney. Yummylicious!
You need not just stare and admire the colorful accessories sported by the tribes around you. There are multiple stalls dotting the festival arena selling tribal shawls, scarfs, headgears, earrings, and what not for you to shop to your heart’s content. I browsed through the offerings and finally settled on a beautiful black headgear with feathers sticking out of it
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