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10 things to do at the 2021 Hornbill Festival in Nagaland

Nagaland’s Hornbill Festival is back after two years. Our recommendations for events, walks, experiences in and around Kohima from December 1-10.

November 29, 2021 / 05:35 PM IST
The 2021 Hornbill Music Festival at Kisama is from December 2–10, 6 PM to 9 PM.

The 2021 Hornbill Music Festival at Kisama is from December 2–10, 6 PM to 9 PM.

The 16 major tribes of Nagaland—the Angami, the Rengma, the Zeliang, the Kuki, the Kachari, the Chakhesang, the Pochury, the Chang, the Ao, the Konyak, the Phom, the Khiamniungan, the Yimkhiung, the Sangtam, the Lotha and the Sumis—have cultural traditions that are as diverse as Northeast India itself. Yet all of these tribal communities come together as a united force every December in Kohima for the Hornbill Festival.

The festival - named after the Indian hornbill, a large and colourful forest bird, which is displayed in the folklore of almost every Naga tribe - remains an umbrella event that brings together this range of traditions every winter.

The 10-day event is a potpourri of cultural exchanges showcased through the region’s tribal dress, food, films, dances, local as well as international music traditions and other customs and practices.

Scheduled from December 1-10 this year, it will be streamed live on the Hornbill TV channel that is available to watch on Tata Sky and Jio TV.

Earlier organised by a private company called Sky Entertainment, the Hornbill festival is now managed by the Nagaland government.

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“No matter what the situation, there’s no way we can allow the Hornbill Festival’s spirit to die,” says Doulo Veyielo, the director of the festival, remarking on how they had to go virtual in 2020 due to the pandemic.

“This year, too, we were very uncertain about whether we should go live until August or September but took the call to go ahead with it only in the month of October,” he adds. “What’s more...we’ve done a facelift of the Naga Heritage Complex, and there are a lot of changes and novel improvisations awaiting even those who’ve visited Kisama earlier—my engineers and officers have done an absolutely great job,” Veyielo says.

Over 100 events have been scheduled at multiple locations as part of the 22nd Hornbill Festival. While the festival will largely be centred at Kisama, 12km away from Kohima, the events and celebrations will also be spread out across Kohima and other nearby areas such as the commercial town of Dimapur and villages like Jotsoma, Dzukou, and Kigwema.

“The main focus of the festival is to showcase the cultural aspect and way of life of Nagaland,” says Theja Meru, Hornbill's music festival director. “It is a wonderful opportunity for an outsider, because it is impossible to travel to all the 12 districts of Nagaland, and this is a great way to enjoy and discover Nagaland in one single window,” he explains.

10 Things to Do at Hornbill

1. What: Watch the Cultural Show

Where: Kisama Main Arena

When: Daily 10 AM to 12 Noon & 1 PM to 2:30 PM

2. What: Take the Hornbill Walks and the Kohima Second World War Walk

Where: Phusachadu, Kigwema and Kohima Town/Village

When: 2–10 December (7 AM to 4 PM)

3. What: Watch the Naga Ethnic and Traditional Wear Show

Where: Kisama Main Arena

When: December 2, 4 PM

4. What: Take the Trekking Trails

Where: Kisama to Dzukou

When: December 2–10, 6 AM

5. What: Catch Nagaland’s Literary & Cinematic Culture

Where: The Nagaland Literature Festival at RCEMPA, Jotsoma

When: December 3, 10 AM to 3 PM

Where: The 3rd Nagaland Film Festival at the Capital Convention Center

When: December 5, 10 AM to 5 PM

6. What: Take the Nagaland City Tours

Where: Kisama to Kohima

When: December 2–10, 9:30 AM to 4 PM

7. What: Take the Touphema & Pfutsero Experiences

Where: Touphema Village & Pfutsero Town

When: December 2–10, 10 AM to 4 PM

8. What: Attend the Hornbill Bamboo Carnival 2021 (featuring Craft Sales & Exhibition, Food Courts & Music and Entertainment)

Where: Nagaland Bamboo Resource Center at Dimapur

When: December 3–5, 12 PM to 9 PM

9. What: Enjoy the 8th Naga Chef Season (an Inter-tribal Cooking Competition)

Where: Kisama

When: Daily, 10 AM to 4 PM

10. What: Attend the Hornbill Music Festival

Where: Kisama

When: December 2–10, 6 PM to 9 PM

Other experiences

From food to alternative healthcare practices, each tribal community will showcase its traditions through multiple windows.

Venyo Zapoto, who was part of the earlier Sky Entertainment team that managed the festival, says that previous editions of the festival tried to raise awareness about alternative healthcare. This focus will be seen in the 2021 edition of the festival, too.

“We used to spread awareness about acupuncture and reflexology during the festivals by providing free therapy sessions to some of the guests,” explains Zapoto, who now runs an alternative healthcare center in Dimapur. Zapoto explains that many of these traditions came to the state through the “Naga army who travelled to China in ancient times... and learned about the science.

“Naga food is eaten boiled and has less masala or spice in comparison to other states,” Zapoto says. “Each of the 16 tribes of Nagaland has a unique way of preparing food and using ingredients, and each food stall at the Hornbill festival showcases their unique food culture,” explains Zapoto, who hails from Chakhesang tribe.

Meru says there are two aspects to the Hornbill Festival—the traditional and the contemporary. “There is something for everybody at Hornbill,” he explains. “Our opening and closing ceremonies feature a lot of traditional music, but there is also fusion. We cover almost every genre, from rock to pop,” adds Meru, who says that music is an important part of bringing out the cultural aspect alive in the festival.

The Hornbill Festival naturally boosts the state’s hospitality and tourism business, too. “We are now strongly promoting homestays in the region,” says Veyielo. “This is because we are currently unable to host many other cultural communities from outside the state, much as we would like to,” explains Veyielo.

If you still need more reasons to go to the Hornbill Festival, Veyielo says: “The Nagas are one of the most misunderstood people, but once you come and feel the touch of the Nagas, you will never forget it in your lifetime.”
Supriya Thanawala is a freelance journalist.
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