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Birds of a feather

The tiger tooth can only be worn by a king; the hornbill's feather is for everyone. Naga folktales extol the bird. A Zeme Naga tale, for example, talks of a young man who turned into a hornbill promising to visit his village once a year. Rahul Karmakar reports.

art and culture Updated: Dec 10, 2010 23:08 IST
Rahul Karmakar

The tiger tooth can only be worn by a king; the hornbill's feather is for everyone. Naga folktales extol the bird. A Zeme Naga tale, for example, talks of a young man who turned into a hornbill promising to visit his village once a year. During one such visit, he plucked the feathers off his body and presented them to his girlfriends, now married…

Such lore has deepened the charm of the seven-day Hornbill Festival, that began on 1 December 2000, and helped a cash-strapped government draw tourists to its annual event.

"The Kisama Heritage Village was developed as a permanent venue to showcase the Naga way of life," says tourism parliamentary secretary, Yitachu. Kisama — acronym for Kigwema and Phesama, both Angami Naga villages — on National Highway 39, is 87 km from Dimapur, the best connected place of Nagaland.

"I had read about the Nagas and their head-hunting ways. But this festival is something else. I am impressed," says Friedrich Lang, a German tourist at the festival that concluded last week. "The underlying variety transports you to a different era," says Jayanto Ghosh from Kolkata.

Nagaland has 16 tribes. How do outsiders tell one tribe from the other? Says bureaucrat Chubasangla Anar, a Sangtam Naga, in mock-rebuke: "It's complicated even for us. Don't try it."