Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Hornbill Festival and The Simpsons - Kvulo Lorin, Director-Administration


Nagaland has witnessed a lot of protests, bandhs and strikes in the past few days.  It is interesting to note the tools we have at our disposal ranging from online media, RTI and the press, which are allowing society to engage in governance more than ever before. We need to be cognizant of this new reality and the methods of dealing with it. Drawing parallels between the Hornbill Festival and an episode from the American TV sitcom, The Simpsons, Kvulo Lorin, the Director of Administration writes about governance in Nagaland and how democracy can be the ultimate winner.


The Hornbill Festival and The Simpsons



Last night I managed to catch an episode of the famous American sitcom (TV serial) “The Simpson’s” and could not help laughing when I saw the similarities between Nagaland and the people of that fictional cartoon show. In that particular episode, global warming made ‘Springfield’ (the fictional town of The Simpson’s) the only town in America experience snowfall that year. Next thing you know, because Springfield is the only town in America with snowfall, there is a huge influx of tourists coming to Springfield for the Christmas holidays. That realization makes the townsfolk giddy with excitement. They immediately realize the tourists will want to stay in their hotels, eat their food and use their hospitals, so they agree to welcome all the tourists with open arms… and then overcharge the hell out of the tourists. So what follows next? All the stores double and triple their prices, huge traffic jams crop up, normally free parking areas become charged, and ultimately even basic Christmas items run out of stock inspite of the excessive prices. I found it humorous because that fictional town could have been Nagaland during the Hornbill festival and it would not have been out of place, except that Nagaland is a dry state while Springfield is not. 


There has been a lot of debate on the pros and cons of “The Hornbill Festival” online, in the newspapers and probably even in church. Tetso College itself organized a debate on the topic “Is the Hornbill Festival effective in promoting the Nagas and their culture?” where a lot of interesting points were raised. During the debate, a lot of genuine concerns were raised about the negative aspects of the festival. Those who felt that Hornbill was having a detrimental effect on Naga society cited the festival as being one of the main reasons for promoting sexual immortality, drunken brawls, accidents and even causing financial ruin to some families. The positive aspects highlighted were about how the festival had placed Nagaland on the world map, the income and employment it generated and the promotion of all the Naga tribes with one common festival. Unfortunately, for the debate team who supported the motion that “Hornbill is effective in promoting the Nagas and their culture”, the roads in Dimapur had craters the size of football fields (a little exaggeration). Apart from the roads, the electricity came and went faster than a VIP escort overtaking every vehicle during a traffic jam. So, naturally the team stating “Hornbill is not effective in promoting Nagas and their culture” won the debate.

While I do understand that a college debate team winning a debate proving Hornbill is ineffective in promoting Nagas and their culture doesn’t mean squat; or a recently held Morung Express poll which depicted 51% disagreeing(26% Yes, 23% others) that “Hornbill festival is the best way of promoting Naga culture and way of living” may not officially prove anything. However, it would be nice to see our Government step up and address the naysayers and vocally take a stand on important key issues more frequently to quell our gossipy and murmuring society.  There needs to be enough governance to check the wrong and enough freedom so it does not stifle the idealists and the dreamers. The problem though is that issues like unemployment, economic disparity and the infrastructural bottle necks cannot be solved by shooting at the problem or through intimidation. It needs actual work and a mindset cognizant of this reality.

According to Thomas Friedman, “India has a weak central government but a really strong civil society, bubbling with elections and associations at every level. China has a muscular central government but a weak civil society, yet one that is clearly straining to express itself more. Egypt, alas, has a weak government and a very weak civil society, one that was suppressed for 50 years, denied real elections and, therefore, is easy prey to have its revolution diverted by the one group that could organize, the Muslim Brotherhood, in the one free space, the mosque.” I think Nagaland can fall into the same category of having a weak(?) government but a very strong civil society, bubbling with elections and associations at every level. Friedman states “But there is one thing all three have in common: gigantic youth bulges under the age of 30, increasingly connected by technology but very unevenly educated.”

It’s true of our society as well. We do have incredibly bright young minds, but let’s not kid ourselves, we also have a lot of mediocre unemployable graduates as well. The silver lining is if we can get our society moving in the right direction then we can become a powerhouse. It’s good our youth are getting educated but apart from only education, we need to provide people with the framework to apply their knowledge constructively with well paying jobs which are self sustainable or else the youth will continue to be frustrated, feel victimized and seethe with self-righteousness while lashing out at symbols of authority for what they interpret to be social injustice.

It’s everyone’s responsibility to make Nagaland work and stop the nepotism and free rides. We need a society that works and that has a future. Doing things the right way could ultimately produce our own Naga Einstein, Abraham Lincoln or even a Mahatma Gandhi. But, if we fail… then we should remember that it is usually the most deprived and marginalized regions (for example Pakistan and Afghanistan and many African nations) with the most violent politics and inequality in society. As Shashi Tharoor has aptly stated, “there is nothing worse than unemployable, frustrated youth.”

I feel optimistic because our Nagas are intelligent, quick to adapt and sometimes stubbornly bold when needed. We are now seeing many Naga entrepreneurs setting up business’s, some large, some small but setting up something not just in Dimapur but in India’s largest cities. There are many involved in IT, apparel, franchises, restaurants, hostels and even more of our Nagas working in the corporate sector. Give us the environment to thrive and we will be able to do it.

If civil society and the government as a whole can do its part then the next time a debate is held regarding whether the Hornbill is positive for society, then those against the motion will not be able say, “Money should not be wasted on grand festivals when we have so many problems like bad roads, electricity,…” because those basic needs will already be there in Nagaland.
 
“Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. For feedback or comments please email: admin@tetsocollege.org” 


Thursday, 12 December 2013

Gender Constructions -Thungdeno Humtsoe, Asst. Professor Sociology

In Naga tradition, males are usually associated with headhunting, wood-carving or stone-pulling whereas females ought to know how to weave, cook and perform other household activities. Although genders are not merely confined to these activities alone, individuals adapt to comfortably fit into these norms. People veering away from societies allocated typical role are sometimes called “tom-boy” (for girls who behave like boys) and “sissy” (for men who behave like girls). Hiding behind the guise of preserving culture and tradition, the roles can actually disrupt progress and be used as a tool to subjugate the other. We take a closer look at what acting like a man and being ladylike means in different societies.

Gender Constructions

Gender stereotypes prevail in all societies. The notion of gender is taught to us from the moment we are born. Family and upbringing, culture, peers, community, media, religion and others are some of the factors that shape our understanding of identity. Gender is another. It is a socially constructed concept, closely monitored by society. How we learn and interact with gender as a young child directly influences how we view the world today. Accepted gender roles and expectations are so entrenched in our culture and society that most people cannot imagine having it any other way.

Different cultures impose different expectations upon men and women who come from that particular society. Culture generally recognizes two basic gender roles - masculine and feminine. Socio-cultural expectations reveal what men and women are supposed to be like in a particular context. It highlights such expectations: “Men should be competitive; women are supposed to be cooperative. Men can be impatient; women must have boundless patience. Men are expected to express anger; women should never be angry or they should certainly never show it. There are also some common genders stereotypes like, ‘Men are insensitive’, ‘women are bad drivers’, ‘all men love sports and sex’, ‘all women love shopping and gossiping’. How often have we heard those comments in our culture? A woman like me may feel angry when gender based comments are made, while others may agree to the comments as genuine differences between the sexes or some others may just make light of this battle between the sexes and laugh it away.

Much of our behavior as men and women is subject to cultural definition. If we are male, our society bends conduct in one way; if we are female, it bends another way. But how much of this difference is due to nature, how much due to culture? This is the question which everyone should explore. Let’s examine what acting like a man and being ladylike means in our society and notions of gender stereotypes in our Naga culture.

“It’s a boy’’, says the nurse and from then on, subtle stereotyping begins. A conscious and unconscious motive of having the family blood continue through him brings joy. Guns and cars are bought for him, preferably black or blue and never pink! While growing up, if he cries he will be told ‘Don’t cry like a girl’. He perhaps learns to suppress his emotions as he thinks it is ‘girlish’ to express them. It’s likely that he would be encouraged to act strong or to act brave. He is likely to have lesser restrictions going out and coming home late. While choosing a career, he would be encouraged to be ambitious and discouraged from choosing careers like teaching, nursing, counseling or other similar professions. as they are seen to be ‘softer’ career opinions meant for a girl. The question of balancing home and family may not arise for him, as it is assumed that his gender defines his primary role as a bread earner. Contrary to this, good manners like talking and laughing gently, being submissive to elders, not ‘fighting like boys’, being sacrificial, caring etc. is most likely to be taught to the girls. She will most likely be encouraged to develop the ‘right female interests’ like cooking, tidying up the house or gardening. It is most often assumed that her gender defines her role and function at home to be primarily a homemaker and mother.

Perhaps gender stereotypes are a result of ‘nurture’ more than ‘nature’. Behavioral differences between the sexes are not hard-wired at birth but are the result of society’s expectations. There may be several men who are soft and gentle in their temperament, and several women who are naturally extroverted, brave and tough. Exaggerated differences between men and women (most of which are individual differences) are glorified and generalized as gender differences and this needs to be challenged since there are greater similarities than differences between men and women. They both have the same desires, wants, fears and dreams.

Based on anthropological studies or cross-cultural evidence, it also shows that gender traits of masculinity and femininity have no necessary connection to biological sex. Margaret Mead’s Study (1935) relating to three New Guinea tribes is worth mentioning here. In the Arapesh tribe, Mead found that both men and women conform to a personality type that we would consider “feminine”. Men and women were believed to have identical sex drives and both were responsible for child care. Next, is the tribe of Mundugumor.  Here men and women were expected to be violent and aggressive. Both men and women act in ways which we would predominantly call “masculine”. These women dread pregnancy and dislike nursing their children. Third is the Tchambuli Tribe, where the women are domineering and energetic. They are the major economic providers of the family. They manage and perform major tasks for the family. The men, on the other hand, are artistic, gossipy, and expressive and look after the children.

This study makes it evident that gender roles are highly influenced by culture and are not necessarily universal. They can change as culture adapts to new environments and social conditions. Our intellects are not prisoners of our genders and those who believe so are conditioned by society’s tendency to stereotype genders. Every culture has different perceptions about what is appropriate for gender, and family members tend to unconsciously raise babies along the dictates of society’s gendered ways. Every parent who strives to achieve a “less gendered” parenting style unconsciously reinforces gender roles. There is so much gender variety in our society, beyond a strict, imagined born-male versus born-female dichotomy. There is always a tendency to conform to the cultural notions of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’. Stereotyping gender creates dangerous consequences that limit a person’s full potential and well being, forcing them to ignore their genuine personality traits, temperament and unique characteristics that make them who they actually are.

“Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. For feedback or comments please email: admin@tetsocollege.org

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Rengma Ngada festival - Dr. P. S. Lorin, Principal Tetso College


Nagaland is a land of festivals with every tribe having their own celebrations at different times in the year. These festivals celebrate our heritage and remain significant even in today’s context. Just before the start of Nagaland’s Hornbill festival, the Rengma Nagas celebrated NGADA on 28th November.

Rengma NGADA festival

Ngada is not just a festival. It is the greatest Rengma festival of all other festivals. It is a post harvesting festival celebrated at the end of November or beginning of December depending on the position of the moon. It begins with a declaration made by the village high priest (Phensegü) who announces the beginning of the festival. Every citizen awaits eagerly for this declaration. By then, the last grain collected from the fields must reach home. It is taboo to bring home any more grain after the pronouncement. It is also known as a thanksgiving festival. It marks the end of the agricultural year and the dawning of a new year.

NGADA DEFINED
Ngada derives its meaning from Rengma. ‘Nga’ means festival and ‘da’ means big. It literally means the biggest festival of all. Ngada represents the totality of life that embraced the yearlong hard labour blessed with overflow of wealth.

NGADA IN THE PAST
In the past, Ngada[1] was celebrated for eight days. Each day has its own significance and specific task to be performed as follows:
The first day starts with preparation of rice bear. Everyone in the family will stay home and prepare rice beer together.
The second day is assigned for collection of banana leaves in the jungles.
The third day is for cleaning of graves by the womenfolk and placing of the rice beer wrapped in the banana leaf on the graves of the dead. This is a symbolic practice of sharing the rice beer with them. The day is set aside for drinking of the rice beer by the eldest member of the family, followed by other members. The whole village is cleansed on this day.   
The fourth day is reserved for dancing, eating, drinking rice beer, and visiting khels, Morungs dressed in full traditional attire. Women do not participate in the Morung feast.
The fifth day is for dancing, singing, eating, and sports like kicking, jumping, and making camp fire by male folk. The male members visit the houses on this day and each house offers something to show their appreciation.
The sixth day is a day meant for freely visiting house to house, khel to khel and clan to clan. Community feast is served with special rice beer.
The seventh day is allotted for collection of firewood, banana leaves, and vegetables for the grand feast on the next day.
The eighth day is the final day of the grand feast. The whole village population participates in the grand feast. The grand feast signals the departure of the souls/spirits of the dead, who have died the previous year, to go to the land of death. The conclusion of the festival marks three important things: a) agreement with fire to prevent future fire accidents b) agreement with rats to prevent destruction of crops or household goods c) rite to expel evil spirits.  

NGADA TODAY
Ngada has been handed down from time immemorial by our forefathers who were first worshippers of nature and spirits. However, with the advent of Christianity, many traditional practices have undergone transformation. Although our traditional practices are not celebrated in their original form any longer, we, Rengma Nagas continue to honour the tradition of our forefathers by celebrating Ngada in November every year. Today, Ngada is celebrated for one day but with the same respect and honour we owe our forefathers. We celebrate our heritage today with great pride and joy because we owe our future to what the past has given us. Even as time moves on, we continue to move forward, always remembering where we first came from and never forgetting our roots. Ngada celebration is testimony to the belief in our past, a practice that continues to reflect in our lives even in today’s context. 

ASPECTS OF NGADA TODAY

        i.            Religious: Ngada was celebrated by our ancestors as per their traditional religion of worshipping nature and spirits. This celebration was a form of reverence in order to appease the spirits. The appeasement of spirits was practiced in order that the evil spirits do not harm the people. In line with that, today, we receive and invoke God’s blessings as Christians. This is a day for us to worship the Lord with thanksgiving in our hearts and acknowledge the blessings he has provided throughout the year. In this way, we Christians celebrate Ngada, with a renewed sense of hope and joy in our hearts that God will continue to provide us with the blessings that we deserve.    

      ii.            Social: One accord, peace, unity and reconciliation were dominant qualities visible in the Ngada celebration. On this day, socially disadvantaged people are helped and taken care of. Our Naga way of being hospitable, I believe, emerges from our close-knit tribal community and values in the past. These qualities continue to exist till date.

    iii.            Political: Recognition of leadership qualities in terms of village authority and administration was respected and acknowledged by all the members of the tribe. There was no room for exploitation. Our earlier healthy practices need to be retained or remodeled where necessary, so that there is no room for bribery, corruption, nepotism or unfair means. 

     iv.            Economic: Ngada was the time to reap the benefits of the hard labour practiced during the entire year in the fields. Therefore, in one way Ngada is also a celebration of economic prosperity. Everyone proudly rejoices for the year-end collection of grains and other crops. Even in today’s modern life, Ngada remains a day of thanksgiving for the harvest/work as we enter a new festive season. It is a day to remember the many blessings we have achieved through our hard work be it in the office, the home or the field.

We celebrate Ngada today as a colorful event, with great mirth and pride as we don our traditional attire and eat our local cuisine. Likewise, with the onset of the festive season and the ongoing Hornbill Festival, let us honour our past tradition, while also moving forward with a vision for a brighter future, one that believes in our past integrity, right values, good conduct, responsibility and sincerity to the purpose of our lives.

Reference:
Thong, Joseph S. 1997. Head-Hunters Culture (Historic Culture of Nagas).Tseminyu: Nei-u Printing
Rengma, Nillo. 1999. The Rengma Customary Laws & Practices, VIP Quarter No. 3, Kohima
Rengma Ngada. Wikipedia. 26 November 2013. <
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rengma_Naga>



[1] Ngada was sometimes celebrated for seven days or ten days



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