SOAS University of London

An Image of Nagaland

Nagaland at the Brunei Gallery
A photographic exhibition by Pól Ó Géibheannaigh
17th January until 22nd March 2008.

The photographs included in this exhibition were taken in and around Kohima the capital of Nagaland in north-eastern India in December, 2000. They show the participation of tribes of Nagaland in the first Hornbill Festival celebrating the sacred bird of the Naga peoples, an annual festival that now takes place between the 1st & 5th of December every year. All of the Naga tribes unite to celebrate the occasion.

The Festival is named after the Hornbill bird which is a part of Naga identity that shows up in the folklore of most of the state’s tribes which is deeply embedded in their cultural history. The imagery, the costume, the enactment of totemic dance is all a part of an ancient ritual, but the circumstances in which these photographs were taken were far removed from a simple anthropological recording of a people’s past. These pictures celebrate a sense of identity which marks a period of optimism in north-eastern India after the difficult period of Naga history.

The state of Nagaland boasts 16 major tribes; a number of these are presented here. The names of the tribes are not a typical recitation of Indian ethnic groups - Angami, Ao, Chakhesang , Chang, Khiamniungan, Kachari, Konyak, Kukis, Lothas, Phom, Pochury, Rengma, Sumi, Sangtam, Yimchungru, and the Zeliang.

In 1947, two-thirds of the land of the Nagas was apportioned to the Indian Federal Union and the rest of their territory fell within the borders of Burma/Myanmar. In the years following 1947, a sense of Naga nationalism arose with the generation of A.Z.Phizo, one of the nationalist leaders who emerged in the period of Indo-Naga war, even down to very recent times a troubled relationship has persisted between New Delhi and the Naga people.

When these photographs were taken in 2000 a ceasefire had just been arranged between the Indian government and the National Nagaland Socialist Council, the Issak-Muviah (NSCN-IM). The Nagas were able, almost for the first time since the establishment of the Indian Federal Union, to celebrate their culture. It is in this atmosphere that they celebrated in 2000 the Hornbill festival.

For the photographer, to be at Kohima at the cessation of hostilities, as a guest of the Ao tribe of the Naga, was an honour. Pól travelled amongst the various tribes and regions and captured these and other images of Nagaland.

The exhibition is open Tuesday - Saturday from 10.30 to 17.00 and admission is free. For more information, please call 020 7898 4046