Brian and I both wondered if The Hornbill Festival would live up to its hype. We hadn't gone so far as to enter the "Welcome to the Hornbill Festival" gate and our high expectations were outmatched. A line of Angami men and women from a single village lined the road to the festival site to celebrate the governor's arrival.
The stadium was a sea of repeating colors and patterns, as representatives from each of the 16 tribes prepared to perform. If Brian and I were visiting alone, we probably would have found a secluded spot on the far top rung of the stadium so that we could take photographs with our new zoom lens and not disturb anyone. Mele, however, motioned for us to come down further...and further...and further...until we were sitting shoulder to shoulder with the Ao tribe. As soon as they saw us, they asked if they could take pictures with us. That has been one of the most remarkable parts of this experience. Everywhere we go, strangers give their cell phones to friends and ask if they could have their picture taken with us. This first photograph, for example. I did not ask that guy for a photograph--he asked if he could have one taken with Brian and me. Soon, Brian was sitting with the men (who wanted to try on his Yankees visor) and I was sitting with the women. The women gave me feathered earrings, lip gloss, and Indian gum as I passed out Tootsie Rolls and sun block. Many of us are now friends on Facebook.
The group that we sat with--the Aos--were very young and very progressive. Many of them were in college and only home for the Festival. Immediately to our right, however, were the Konyaks, a much older, more traditional, and far more intense tribe. Here, you see us photographed with Angh, the King of the Konyaks. This is a REALLY big deal. He is not just dressed for the occasion~~He is the Chief of one of the most powerful tribal regions on earth, one that has retained much of its indigenous culture despite the forces of globalization. He has 11 wives (I'm not sure why this is important) and his morung straddles the Naga/Burmese border, with 1/2 of it in India and 1/2 in Myanmar. He is no joke.
Regarding the language:
All of the signs are in English. There is no written form of Nagamese or of any of the 100+ village languages in Nagaland. I am not sure how many people speak English~~We have not had any problems at all but we have also had Mele with us at all times to translate as needed. Mele has acted as our guide to Nagaland in every dimension. He meets us for breakfast in the morning, drives us from place to place all day, and has dinner with us at night. We are not an easy pair to keep on track; he has mastered the technique.