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Chapter 18 Visualising National Life, The Hornbill Festival as Culture and Politics

DOI: 10.23912/978-1-910158-55-5-3012

ISBN: 978-1-910158-55-5

Published: February 2016

Component type: chapter

Published in: Focus on World Festivals

Parent DOI: 10.23912/978-1-910158-55-5-2822



The global circulation of images has become a powerful tool in representing the visual richness of cultures around the world. It has made the annual Hornbill Festival in North-east India a product that acts as a brand. The plethora of visual images – tribal people in their traditional clothes, scenic representation of landscapes, and tourist information on how to reach Nagaland to attend the festival – have fixed the identities of the Nagas of India in such a compelling and exotic manner that it resembles a kind of modern primitivism, a getaway from the decadent and uncultured world, to a place that still preserves these pristine habitats for cultural and tourist voyeurs. This chapter will suggest that in order to appreciate the festival one has to take into account the different levels of what I shall call the ‘performance of identity’. First, the festival celebrates the creation of Nagaland in 1963 as a state in India after years of civil and military unrest in the region. Second, while the political situation remains unresolved, the festival is an attempt to project a distinct Naga identity that correlates with notions of indigenous peoples’ rhetoric of ‘preservation of culture’ and ‘self-determination’ as the cornerstone of national identity. While these different forces are at play in the global arena of indigeneity, the Hornbill Festival also functions as a contested site of culture. On the one hand, it plays on representations of exoticism from colonial ethnography found in glossy coffee-table books and adventure tourism materials. On the other hand, the festival itself is struggling to articulate a Naga culture that represents the lived reality of present day Nagas. Tension arises from displaying a manufactured, but nonetheless real, culture that is dependent on the political economy of global markets. It is in these tensions that we can come to understand the evolving nature of culture and all its manifest contradictions.

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  • Arkotong Longkumer (Author)

For the source title:

  • Chris Newbold, De Montfort University (Editor)
  • Jennie Jordan, De Montfort University (Editor)

Cite as

Longkumer, 2016

Longkumer, A. (2016) "Chapter 18 Visualising National Life, The Hornbill Festival as Culture and Politics" In: Newbold, C. & Jordan, J. (ed) . Oxford: Goodfellow Publishers http://dx.doi.org/10.23912/978-1-910158-55-5-3012


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Longkumer, A. (2013) Who sings for the Hornbill?: the performance and politics of culture in Nagaland, Northeast India, in The South Asianist, 2(2), 87-96. McDui-Ra, D. (In Press) Debating Race in Contemporary India, London: Palgrave Macmillan.


Published in Focus on World Festivals

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