Naga Festival

Naga People dancing
Naga people dancing at the traditional New Year festival held last year in Lahe. Photo: Min Wai (Monywa)

Naga Land

Naga Festival on the rise in Popularity Chart by Khin Aung (English)

Like most ethnic groups, those of Myanmar possess interesting customs and features, not to mention their friendly smiles and innocent-looking eyes. As such most professional photographers are usually attracted to portraiture of national races and scenery of their habitat.

Photos of Naga lifestyle arouse curiosity as to their traditional customs. There are several Naga groups but only nine-basic racial groups. Among the different groups are Hymmye, Linenong, Makyan, Kahyaung, Lautaw, Marnaut, Gonwan, Tangun, etc. Nagas are mainly found in the Sagaing Region, the four townships — Lahe, Layshi, Hkamti, and Nanyun.

To go to Lahe, an upstream boat ride along the Chindwin River up to the Sinthay village, near Hkamti, is needed. Thence to Lahe by car. Layshi is only reached via Tamanthi. Both trips are very difficult in the rainy season, what with mountain landslides due to downpours blocking the narrow motor road. Travelling is mainly feasible from 20 December to early May. Nanyun lies on the famed Ledo Road, reachable by way of Myitkyina-Tanai.

Naga nationals living near Hkamti are conversant with Myanmar language. The Tiger Conservation Area in Hukong Valley is also home of the Nagas. Contiguous to the northwest frontier of Myanmar lies another wider homeland of Nagas, in India. This hilly region is said to be difficult to access, and difficult to administer.

The Nagas fare is rice and the cereal left aside for fermentation. The Khaung-Ye, a kind of intoxicating brew, is a well-known term even outside of Nagas region. Their spiritual life is mostly animistic. Agriculture is slash-and-burn, but there are some terrace farming. Their traditional weaving industry plays a rather significant role, producing blankets, wraps, and shawls. There are a good number of smithies and bronze casting workshops.

Three Traditional festivals of Nagas are held every year. Kaiwee, or New Year, falls on 15th May. Kyaungshokwee, or traditional ceremony of eating the first crop, is self-evident. With the first showers of the rainy season comes Long Ngaing, the traditional pounding of cereal for snacks.

These lovable people are adamant in wearing their garb on all possible occasions and are clearly proud of it. They simply love their hand-woven (on a backstrap loom) clothing, while strutting their stuff of a fang of wild animals at the waist, neck, or on the head, courtesy of boars, tigers, etc., taken in hunting. Beads of their necklace often resemble those of the Pyu Period, and they are made of quartz, or of seeds from the Ywei tree (Adenanthera pavonina). Some types of necklaces are reserved for community elders. They also work in traditional garb on the farm while their ‘Sunday best’ are kept for festive occasions. Males usually have only a waistcloth. Females do without any upper garment but wear their traditional shawl. With the temperature sometimes plunging to -2’C, every house has an open hearth, around which the whole family sleeps or dine. But unmarried girls usually have a room of their own.

The New Year Festival of Nagas has a great attraction both for locals and foreigners. The weather is also a big help, making for convenience in transportation. On 14th January of the festival an auspicious pole, stuck with small, traditional bamboo figures, is set up. On the next day, a gamal is slaughtered, and its meat is cooked or fried. At nightfall, a bonfire is started, and participants, winning (on Khaung-Ye brew) and dining, dance all night long

Naga Elder
Naga Elder (photo: Yarzaryeni)

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