Experiencing the Aoling Festival of Nagaland
Tucked deep into the forested mountains of eastern Nagaland is Mon, and in Mon are the Konyak Nagas. Endlessly fascinating, the tribe has not let the recent surge in tourist gimmicks dilute their celebration of the arrival of Spring and the New Year. They continue to envelop visitors with their endlessly interesting culture.
The Konyaks come from a strong practice of head-hunting. Among their rooms you’ll find shelves stocked with skulls in testament to their many victories. Today, they are a happy and peace-loving lot, who spice up their agricultural routine with the occasional hunt. The rest of the time they just sit back with a pitcher full of the local alcohol and maybe a spot of opium. The tribes in this area live incredibly interesting lives, being on the border between India and Myanmar and enjoying dual citizenship. The village chief of nearby Lungwa lives in a hut that’s half in one country and half in the other!
The big spring feast in this case lasts for a full six days and takes place immediately after the jhum crop has been sowed.
On the first day, or Hoi Lah Nyih, all efforts go into preparation. Firewood is gather, vegetables and fruits are collected, new clothes woven or old clothes patched. More interestingly, families sacrifice chickens to read their future in the entrails. Domesticated animals are gathered for slaughter as the spirit of preparation continues for the next few days. Young boys are initiated into the rites of men in the process.
The fourth day marks the big feast. Heady with the local rice beer, the villagers sing and dance and generally make merry. Decked out in traditional handwoven costumes and headgear they follow the graceful dancing with reenactments of the glorious headhunting days of their past.
The festival will most likely be an experience beyond your imagination even though much of the North East still remains cut-off from mainland India, and there are tensions of identity that must be recognized before categorizing them as an ‘unexplored tribe’. It will also hopefully shake up your notions of what it is to live with your fellow men and the endless cultural intricacies that hold a society together. Isn’t that the point of travel?
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