Tuensang - Celebrating Khaozao sey sumai

The trip undertaken by the LRD was an assessment tour of their Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP), a government of India initiative implemented countrywide under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) scheme. Under the watershed development programme, the LRD also had a sub-project: Special Programme for Economic and Environmental Development, better known as ‘SPEED’, a five-year programme. The individuals working under these projects are known as the Watershed Development Team (WDT) members. 

 A more concise article (official report) of the trip and their assessment can be read HERE

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In the last third and last segment of our travel, we travelled back the familiar roads to take the road that led towards Pathso via Kingniu. The short road to Kingniu was more comfortable than we could’ve ever imagined. After five days of travelling on probably some of the worst terrains, the black topping that was laid in front of us was gratifying to say the least.

Kingniu was our lunch stop with a rather funny story. The Director later felt sorry because he thinks that he probably hurt their feelings and sentiments. After the short formal meetings and introductions (Sanglao was already part of a previous plantation project with the LRD), we were all drawn to a gravestone under a tree. We didn’t read it or think too much into it until the Director pointed it out and then we saw it. The epitaph on the gravestone was dedicated to the founder of the village. He was allegedly born in 1830 and died in 1993. We were told that he founded the village in 1940. On further inquiry, the villagers claimed that this man died when he was 163 years old. I say ‘claim’ but they were certain. In fact, the village leader (Gaon bura) said that this man was his father. The Director pressed him further: “your father? Your real father” and the man said “well, pretty much like my real father”. I don’t think anyone meant to hurt their feelings but it was too incredulous not to react. On the other hand, if this claim is really true, can you imagine?

We good a good tip for a short cut to get to Pathso from Kingniu. The original route was to go back all the way to Noklak which would’ve taken us five hours. The shortcut was cutting the travel time by four hours but it came with a warning: there was a good chance that the vehicles might encounter some serious problems as it was a rocky uphill climb. What we weren’t told of however was the exquisite Zungi/Lang river that would lay side by side of that struggle. Zungi (‘Lang’ in the Khiamnuingan dialect) is one of the major rivers in Nagaland and the originating point is from somewhere in Pangsha. The water is an unspoilt vision of clear aquamarine.  

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We reached Pathso around the evening and I think although we were all tired, we were a little sad too. This was our last night before heading back to Tuensang. Yet, the following day was something to look forward to because we were right on time for a celebration.

Each tribe in Nagaland has a festival attached to them, mostly welcoming the season of harvest (farming has always played a pivotal role) and the Khaozao sey sumai is said to be the biggest Khiamnuingan festival.







Khaozao sey sumai is one of the main festivals of the Khiamnuingan Nagas; an integreal part woven in the fabric of our social life. This is a festival of thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest, the handsome young men and beautiful young women of the village, for livestock and success for the year.

The festival marks the end of the year and the ushering of the new year. It is a time of complete rest with plenty of food and wine and a day-long celebration with dancing and singing. It is brought to an end by seeking blessings and protection from in the coming year.

It is a time to forgive and forget and renew ties as well as forge new relationships between individuals and clans sharing wine from one khaotsao (rice beer mug made of bamboo) and food from one plate.

An explanation of the festival through a pamphlet we were given (grammar edited)

I just want to let you know that sometimes Nagas have a shock value. It gets heightened at times to a point where even Nagas are seemingly shocked by other Nagas. The Khaozao sey sumai festival was that and much more. Apart from the Khiamnuingan WDT workers, it came across as one of the most bizarre experiences of our lives. If you want to use the famed Hornbill Festival as your meter, the Khaozao sey sumai is (to borrow the distinct phrase used by Apple in one of their commercials) on a molecular level. The Hornbill Festival is nothing, simply nothing, compared to this. This was raw, wild and untamed. 

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As soon as the men began to form the circle for the dancing, there were other men scrambling around collecting aluminium buckets of food. We didn’t know what was happening but we were in the middle of a controlled chaos. As soon as the dancing and the singing began, these men with the buckets ran across feeding the dancers the food with their hands. We had expressions that spelled just one questions: What is going on?

The dancers kept dancing and singing and eating. They didn’t refuse the food, be it rice or a chunk of pork fat. As the singing got louder, the sun shone brighter and the pieces of meat got larger. The food (accompanying meat and a lentil dish) was not refused nor wasted. It was consumed. In whole. In due time, even the spectators were being fed and joining in the festivities. For them, this was a free meal and passing it up was not an option. 

The Khaozao sey sumai is a festival where only men and boys take part in.

We became like typical tourists taking pictures and videos and selfies. It was not possible to miss out any moments here. Along with Debbie and some other WDT member, I also distributed the last remaining sweets and biscuits to the many children watching this celebration. But to be honest, I have conflicting thoughts about this ‘act of kindness’ that we do. This wasn’t much, sweets and biscuits, but I feel that as privileged folks, we tend to insensitive to them. We give children things like toys, biscuits and chocolates, things they probably will not be able to find or eat again. It makes us feel like a good person, a good human being for a while, but apart from the self-gratification that we get out of it,  are we making their day or spoiling them? Children perceive so much more than we give them credit for and we only have to look at ourselves as examples to know what influenced us on our likes and dislikes. It was choices we made as kids. I always wonder if we are sowing the seeds for a sense of discontent in years to come…

The festivities went on and some of the officials as well as the WDT members joined the dancing. They soon brought out the massive horn mugs. While it should have had the local wine, I reckon it was too early in the day to drink so instead there was juice. I tasted one and it was repulsive. It was rice and lentil mashed juice with cold water! I was not a happy camper and while it may have been rude, I turned away all the other offers until someone insisted I try one particular horn which thankfully was a fresh fruit infusion. That restored my faith in the horn mugs but I wasn’t going to try another one.

We didn’t stay too long for the celebrations and I am not sure they cared too much whether we stayed or left as this was a day much awaited and longed for.

Needless to say, this was one of the most interesting ends to a trip. We had a long journey ahead of us but the festivities of Khaozao sey sumai had energised us enough. In hindsight, I still find that this was one of the craziest experiences I have had while travelling. 

JANUARY 11 - 17, 2016