By Samhita Barooah
New Year means new beginnings and new aspirations. People come together and celebrate the advent of another year of hope and promises to transform life and living for a better tomorrow. It was almost 10 years now of travelling to Nagaland on work. This was the first time that I was invited to a community festival titled, ‘Chizami-Za’ (Chizami Day) which was marked as the foundation day for Chizami on January 8, 2015. The theme for this grand occasion was “Recognising history, Celebrating the present, Inspiring the future”. It was meant to preserve, promote and celebrate the rich cultural heritage and social dynamics of Chizami village. This day was very memorable for the families to renew and build family ties, friendships and unity through bringing together every Chizami citizen, in-laws and well-wishers settled across the state and beyond. Glimpses of cultural aromas of food, songs, dances and customs of Chakhesang Naga community were the attractions for the visitors. The main highlights of the event included a colourful display of folk songs, dances, indigenous games, upcoming talents, fashion, music, art, crafts, literature, education, sports, sales, cuisine, wildlife and flora.
In the past few years, ethnic festivals, local food festivals and cultural events have been very common in the North East states. I have travelled to Sikkim, Nagaland, Assam and Meghalaya in the last 4-5 years to witness such festivities out of interest and passion for travelling. It was the first time; I went to Chizami village in Phek district of Nagaland to witness the first village event which connected the community from outside the village. Since I had gone a day ahead of the festival, I could participate in the preparations of the festival events. The organizing committee included the Chizami women society members, youth society members, village elders, prominent community leaders of Chizami village and members of the village council. All these groups were working tirelessly to arrange for the huge event which was supposed to host around 5000 people at one go. Every task was assigned to different sets of community groups. Youths were in charge of preparing the venue. Women were decorating the stage and sitting areas. Community based organisations like North East Network; Nagaland was presenting the exhibition of local farm produce, weaves, traditional equipments, arts and crafts and all the publications which were prepared by the Chizami youths and children. More than 100 young people were practicing the traditional dance form and local games on the local ground which was the venue of the event. Most elderly people were supervising the youths in preparing for the minute details for the event.
There are 6 khels of neighbourhood communities in Chizami village, namely, Pfutsepa, Pulekhro, Kepero, Pfutse, Ladelekhro, Mecutheza khels and accordingly the local ground was divided into 6 components with traditional wooden shed built to signify these khels. Then every shed was decorated with the traditional artifacts and symbolic presentation of a Naga kitchen with a fireplace lit around the shed. This was the space for people to sit on the ground as per their respective khels.
I was wondering how the community will cater to the food requirements of the event, will there be any food stalls or any packaged food available. The women society of Chizami village was assigned the responsibility of arranging for the community feast. To my amazement, the whole village of about 3000 people geared up with all possible resources they treasured for the event. Women farmers brought in local herbs, roots, fruits, vegetables, rice, naga dal and millets from their farms. Women in scores came with baskets hung on their heads and shoulders with some of the most exotic herbs, tubers, vegetables and edible plants which their stored in the local school premises. For a change schools were not used as relief camps and army transit camps. I was told by the organizers that there will be food for the guests which will be local and all the community members will get their own lunch boxes. The community members will be getting various meat items for the occasion, but the rice must be brought from their homes. There were no chips, ice-cream, coffee, pan and cold-drinks counters which otherwise becomes the backbone of any festival.
The exhibition space was thoughtfully curated and presented by the community workers of North East Network, a women’s organisation located in Chizami village since 1998. There were about 10 stalls which were thematically divided into showcasing local varieties of seeds, uncultivated weed, roots, crops and tubers, different publications of village youths who have been involved in wildlife and biodiversity conservation work. Another set of stalls were dedicated to showcasing very creative artworks done by a local Chizami youths and bamboo crafts done by another local Chizami entrepreneur based in Dimapur. Chizami Weaves, a collective effort of women weavers and team leaders of North East Network presented a stall of the hand woven products like that of shawls, dress materials, stoles, bags, cushion covers and many local handloom products which are extremely important for the local community needs. There three stalls which depicted the traditional attires of each gender specific age-groups, weaving tools and equipments, various household utility items which are commonly used by the community daily and even some traditional storage items, beds and tables which are still restored by the community members.
The event began with a procession of all the community members in traditional wear, headgear and local guns which marked the amalgamation of all the members of the village together on the same ground. Village elders, youths, children and women marched together to the ground and positioned themselves under their respective khel spaces marked by the wooden sheds. Then after a long gun salute which signified the beginning of the New Year. The event was inaugurated by the oldest man who was in his 90s who hoisted the traditional flag of Chizami village and he was given public recognition by the village council members and the youths. Another interesting feature of this event was the recognition of spouses who have married women from the Chizami village from within and outside the state of Nagaland. All state functionaries and officials were also seated amongst the common people and guests. There was no special protocol for dignitaries and special guests from the political and government strongholds. Everyone was treated equally along with the community members.
It was interesting to observe the amazement of the visitors of the resources of Chizami village, flora, fauna, products and the skills of the people. In the evening of Chizami Za, there was a talent show of different groups and individuals who made wonderful performance and enthralled the audience. Some striking performances were that of mimicry, group dances, playing Spanish guitar on the lap, rock bands, western music and traditional music, rock band performances and elderly women dressed as disco dancers performing on an old hindi disco number. The entire community was involved in public appreciation of talents showed by the young people from the village.
Chizami Za recognised the older generation for their wisdom, guidance and living heritage of past struggles, the present generation for their tireless efforts to sustain the lives and livelihoods of a cohesive community and finally the youths and children were also appreciated for their agile performances through local games, dances and performing arts, fashion and arts and craft works. Indeed for a visitor it was a day of unforgettable timeless memories.
When communities wish to co-exist in harmony and exhibit the highest elements of human endurance and affection, they can do it with a lot of dignity and pride. This occasion marked the beginning of a very powerful assertion of social and cultural rights of an ethnic community whose identity is integral to their living traditions and shaping of future generations. I felt blessed to be part of such a historic event which reflected a village republic in its true sense.