Mar 12, 2009

Naga: Culture on Display in Switzerland

Active ImageNaga cultural exhibition and documentary film screenings draw diverse crowds in Switzerland.


Below is an article published by: The Morung Express

Dimapur, March 11: For the better part of 2008, folks in Switzerland have been introduced to the unique culture and history of the Nagas through two exhibitions hosted at the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich and the Museum der Kulturen, Basel. The exhibition in Basel, which began on August 22, 2008, to continue till May 17, 2009, presents rare and exquisite items from the collection of the Ethnologische Museum in Berlin, the Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde in Munich, and the Museum der Kulturen Basel.

Select pieces from Naga collections of these three museums, which have been assembled over the last 120 years and have never been on public display before are being shown to the public in the Naga Exhibition themed: ‘A Forgotten Mountain Region Rediscovered’ in the Museum der Kulturen, Basel.

The Naga Exhibition put up by the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich is a complementary exhibition under the title “Naga — Schmuck und Asche” (Nagas — Beads and Ashes). This exhibition which continues from June 7, 2008, to March 1, 2009, is put together by Alban von Stockhausen of the Ethnographic Museum at the University of Zurich and Marion Wettstein.

The Naga Exhibition in Basel is the current edition of the “Special” exhibition that the Cultural Museum puts up once a year and according to reports, the Naga show has turned out to be a big hit with a comprehensive show complemented by a rich supporting programme like guided tours, workshops, lectures, exhibition talks and special offers for schools.

It was in connection with these support programs of the exhibition that a team of six prominent Nagas from different fields left for Switzerland with the support of Panos South Asia from January 30, 2009, to February 7, 2009. Along with the two documentary filmmakers were a history lecturer at Tuensang who is also a renowned artist, an author who teaches English at the North East Hill University, a professor of geography and a peace activist.

The first set of events started in Basel with the screening of “Phalee”, a documentary film made by Yirmiyan Arthur as a part of the Panos Fellowship programme. The film is a story about daily life of Phalee, a Naga village in Manipur, in the context of the present conflict. The next round of interaction was an introduction to the ongoing Naga reconciliation process by Aküm Longchari, which preceded a short film on the Reconciliation Soccer. This film produced by Panos, showed how football is used as a tool to strengthen the process of reconciliation in Nagaland. The effort for Naga Reconciliation was appreciated and the creative use of soccer as a symbolic confidence building activity was applauded in both Basel and Zurich.

The events in Basel ended with the screening of another film, “Ashes of Our Land”, by Ate Kevichusa and readings from “Laburnum for My Head”, a book by Prof. Temsula Ao. A similar order was followed in Zurich. But in addition to following the pattern of events in Basel, Zurich also had a talk by Dr. Lanusashi Longkumer on oral traditions and their significance in the political context of the Naga peoples. Prof. Ao added to this with her poems, which have drawn substantially from the Naga oral tradition. Here, too, there was much discussion on Naga history and aspirations.

Terming his experience during the exhibitions as “very satisfying”, Dr. Lanusashi Longkumer said that it had been a unique experience for him. The Geography Lecturer from Nagaland University, who spoke on the Oral Tradition of Nagas, was especially proud that the trip of Nagas comprised mainly of women who were excelling in different walks of life.

Iris Yingsing Chuba expressed disappointment at the limited interaction but was all wonder at seeing in Switzerland treasures that are now “lost to the Nagas”. As a native, born and brought up in Nagaland, Iris said that there were many items of the Nagas in the exhibitions which she had seen for the very first time. “The craftsmanship of our forefathers was simply awesome…incomparable to those of today,” she says adding that she felt really sad looking at the relics of Naga history in the exhibitions. While relating to the exhibitions as a real “eye-opener”, Iris however felt that the better part of the trip was the rare opportunity to get to know and interact with fellow-Nagas who had accompanied her to Switzerland.

Professor Temsula Ao of North East Hill University (NEHU) also recalled the trip as a unique experience where “amidst the exhibits of our forefathers, I got to talk about something current”. Prof. Temsula, who read the lead story of her upcoming book and a poem on her grandmother and the Naga tradition of looking after our aged, said that there had been a lot of interest aroused on the Naga people which was evident even on the streets of Switzerland. All said and done, the two exhibitions and the visit of modern Nagas are said to have been a huge success which is anticipated to have many economic, cultural and political implications for the Naga people.