Post Mortem

Guns, guitars & the Guinness World Records

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 12/30/2019 12:03:43 PM IST

 “Guns are the sounds of celebration in Eastern Nagaland. Happy Aoling,” read the confident, poised and proud Konyak youth from a message on his mobile phone. His eyes shone with a clear piercing glint that etched them forever in my heart. “Indian army, police cannot do anything to us today,” he said. 

He and two other youngsters were casually hanging out in one of the squares in Mon Town, the little park is also a war memorial site we discovered later. Two more joined us midway through. They were all very proud of their home town, their heritage and felt good that they could carry and use their weapons. They had no violence or ill will in their hearts. They were just being free to be who they naturally are and always have been. People who use weapons in their daily lives to hunt, fish, protect themselves, etc. Just a part of life. Except now, they can be that free only at festival time under the often leering gaze of the Indian Armed Forces. 

I had just finished shooting one of the guns that the owner had meticulously jammed with gunpowder. They had offered to have us try. Shooting it took a lot more effort than I anticipated. It took a few tries to get it right. But it felt good to shoot it right there in the square. No big deal. 

If you like guns then you will love Konyak country at festival time. Konyaks are excellent gunsmiths and have a unique way of making gun powder. Their craftsmanship is exquisite. Their weapons are a natural extension of their bodies and you will see them carry it with such grace. They are also renowned as exceptionally brave warriors. 

If you also love music, especially good old rock and roll, then you will love Nagaland in general. Nagas have a natural affinity with music. Music is an essential part of festivals, programs, functions of any sort and church of course. Almost every Naga home has a guitar in it or one close by and no evening of revelry is complete without a guitar and songs sung along by all present. Throw in a bonfire and you have a way of life instead of a rare treat enjoyed by city folk when they are on holiday. 

Nagaland lives up every bit to its tag, The Land of Festivals. Nagas really know how to throw a party. The ease with which they can glide from the traditional to the modern is another example of the exquisite grace that Nagas are gifted with. Naga festivals give us a glimpse of how Nagas don their traditional attire , dance and sing the songs of their forefathers during the day and then effortlessly line up for the beat or talent contests that charge up the crowd with deafening rock, ballads, hip hop, and even a smattering of Bollywood. 

And so no surprises then at this year’s re-branded Aoleng Mini Hornbill Festival 2019 3rd - 5th April, the music and the beat contest did not disappoint. Guitars ruled the night and rocked the crowd rounding off the third and final day of the festival that had also recorded an amazing, historical and mesmerizing feat pulled off by 4,687 Konyak women earlier in the day. The main event of this year’s festival.

The interesting story of how this amazing feat came to be was told to me by my friend who was one of the organizers of the event. He told me that firing muzzle loading guns is a part of celebrations for Konyak Nagas and almost every Konyak male owns firearms. Traditionally during festivals, especially Aoleang, all dancing troupes would enter with guns and enjoy firing them. 

Some of the Aoleang festival organizing committee members started to talk about setting a Guinness World Record (GWR) for largest firing of muzzle loading guns. With no idea of how to go about it, the idea still picked up steam and was brought to the Advisory Board of the Konyak Union (KU) and it was then decided to explore the possibility of setting a world record. 

When contact was finally made with the GWR Office, the response to the proposal to the dismay of all concerned was that firing guns was not encouraged by their organization. They instead offered an option to perform a traditional folk dance with over 4,000 people together. 

There was a long deliberation on the matter and it was decided to organize the women folk for the performance of largest traditional folk dance. 

And that’s how it came about that with amazing dedication, organization and orchestration, the official GWR website now states that: 

“ … the largest traditional Konyak dance which took place on 5 April when 4, 687 women from 130 villages came together for an impressive display of a traditional folk dance with joyfully coloured costumes and a melodious song to sing.

The attempt was organised by the Konyak Union from the Mon District in the Indian State of Nagaland, a social organisation whose main aim is preserving Konyak’s rich and diverse culture… “

Even though not a shot was to be fired on 5 April, it was announced that the Chief Invigilator for the GWR did not show up as the US and UK Intelligence services gave negative reports about Nagaland. Everyone was suitably mystified by the announcement. 

It was a mesmerizing sight to see the immense grace of women dressed up in their traditional finery who had lined up for hours in the sun and the mud that the rains from the night before had left. Row after row and column after column of color, motion and sound really did take your breath away. 

Against the backdrop of guns, guitars and the women who made it into the GWR, what made this day and that time spent there really stand out were a few other things. 

Earlier in the day, I was delighted when a young man asked me what I was doing there. We were standing comfortably on the covered and carpeted dais where all the important guests would be seated commanding a spectacular view of the action below. 

My mother and sister are there he said looking down at the teeming swirl of beauty, color and tradition in the mud all lining up to dance for the GWR. 

The soft spoken youth felt that the outside world still held a narrow and stereotypical view of them being headhunters and we want to be known for other things. He felt that this attempt would show the world who the Konyaks are culturally and who they really are today. He hoped this was a step in that direction. 

He spoke about how transportation was the biggest barrier to development and access saying that they don’t have access to other states directly. The only mode of transportation is the road and that is so bad that people say nobody wants to send their goods here as they will not make it in good shape. Economic activity is restrained and restricted by lack of transportation. 

He also felt that many locals lack civic sense depriving themselves of a good quality of life and that they need to develop consciousness to keep their towns clean. 

Teenagers yearning for basic infrastructure like roads, hygiene and hospitals, even as they swagger about glued to their smart or semi smart phones, is disconcerting. 

Another poignant moment was when the invited special guest, the handsome Angami Students’ Union (ASU) President, Jn. Visako Rino, gave a moving speech, that included among other things, thanking the Konyaks for their patronage in the past and offering brotherhood for all Konyak brothers and sisters in Dimapur and Kohima. Such public acknowledgments and gestures in the presence of youth make and strengthen bonds between a people who more than ever before need to be a united force to handle the many issues that are at hand. 

But the absolute best thing is the friendship band that an elegant lady tied on my wrist binding me in friendship to her. She said it was a part of the tradition of the festival. I was so moved and stunned by the beautiful gesture amidst all the other things going on that I did not even get her name. She must have thought me to be a woman of little grace but she should know that I have the band with me. Its on my table as I write this and I’ve carried it with me across countries and continents wherever I’ve been since the first of week of April.

One of the year’s best memories. Amazing grace. All around. Thank you Peihwang and Seiwang especially. 

Farah Rahman, (farah.nagaland@gmail.com)

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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