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SEIN MYO MYINT

The land of the Naga people (Naga Land) is located in north­west Myanmar and partly across the border in eastern India. I don’t know how big the land of the Nagas is in India as I have not been there although I have heard that it is very big. But, the area of the habitat of the Naga people inside Myan­mar constitutes a very big land tract running from the north-western extremity of Sagaing Region to the west­ern regions of Kachin State. It is a mountainous region. Mt. Saramati, one of Mya­mar’s highest mountains, is also there in the region. Naga tribes live in various regions like Tamanthi, Leshi, Khamti, Lahe, Shimbweyan, Nanyun, Pansaung, etc. Naga hill tribes could travel between these places on foot using mountain paths. But, plains people like us who want to travel to Leshi have to fly first to either Hommalin or Khamti and then continue the journey by car to Pinma Village. On the other hand, you can also travel by road directly all the way from Monywa to Thet Ke Kyin, from there to Phaungpyin, Homma­lin and Pinma. Whichever mode of travel you take, once you reach Pinma, you will have to cross   the Chindwin River to Tamanthi on the other side. You can travel by car the more than 40 miles of mountain road from Tamanthi to Leshi. You can travel that road by car without any difficulty only from mid-winter to the end of summer. In the raining season and the first part of winter, you can travel that road only on foot. You can also go direct to Tamanthi by steaming upriver along the Chindwin.

If you ant to go to Lahe, you can go direct to Khamti by air or boat. The road leading to Khamti is in good condition in the summer and winter. When you reach Khamti, you will have to travel to Sinthe Village by boat. It is 50 miles of motor road from Sinthe to Lahe. The road is in good condi­tion from mid-winter to the end of summer.

If you want to travel to Shimbweyan, Nanyun, Pansaung , you will have to take the Ledo Road at Namti, near Mogaung in Kachin State. You can travel by car to Tanai, Shimbweyan, Nanyun and Pansaung. These regions are the habitat of Naga tribes.

There are four main groups of Naga people, namely, Summara Naga, Hta Ngan Naga, Sun Naga and Hine Myay Naga. As it is said that the Summara Naga group comprises four tribes, the Hta Ngan Naga group eight tribes, the Sun Naga group three tribes and the Hine Myay Naga group 49 tribes, it could be said that there are a total of 64 Naga tribes.

The author has visited the Naga Hills before. I have gone there more than ‘sev­eral’ times. I went there to take documentary photos. The first time was in 2001. It was during the Naga New Year Festival. The Naga New Year Festival is held every year on January 151″.

The 2001 Naga New Year Festival was held in Leshi. The government also allowed foreign tourists to go to Leshi and take part in that year’s festival. The tourists were taken there as a package tour by private tour companies. The foreign tourists allowed to go to Leshi for the festival numbered about 40. (In succeeding years, the Ministry of Hotels & Tourism organized trips for foreign tourists to the Naga New Year Festival.) When we heard that foreign tourists would be present at that year’s festival, the author and his colleagues also made arrangement to go there. The author was accompanie on that trip by Photographers Moe Min (Rays), Mogok Soe Htay and Thaung Htike.

We went from Yangon to Mandalay by air. We con­tinued the journey by car four Mandalay to Monywa, Yay Oo, Kan Htoo Ma, Pyin Kaing and to Thet Ke Kyin. We travelled in two cars: one from Mandalay and the other belonging to Mogok Soe Htay. Friends Ko Soe Thein and Ko Toke joined us in another car at Thet Ke Kyin. We spent the night at Thet Ke Kyin and continued the journey the next day. We travelled through Htaung Tha, Tha Hnon Taw, Town Inn, Htin Hyu Gyaung, Ywa Thit, Baing Lei, Ohn Tha, Yaung Hee, Aung Chan Tha, and spent the night at Phaungpyin.

The next day, we trav­elled through the villages of Hway Kyaing, Nyaung Kone, Tha Nyit, Harpar, East Khamaing, Lwin Gyi, Nant­petkar, Aungbin, Hlwa Zin Kone, Hei Kham, Kuntaung, and spent the night at Hom­malin. Then, again the next day, we travelled through the villages of Kawyaar, Karmar, Tonmaheir, Mahn Baw, Maung Kham, Nanpon, Mein Nwe, Tonmalaw, HmawYone Myaing, Yet Pha, Mardi, Pinma, and crossed the Chindwin River at Pinma. It was a more than 240-mile from Thet Ke Kyin to Pinma. After crossing over to the Tamanthi side, we ate an early dinner and continued on to Leshi. After passing through Yan Nway, we slept the night at 21 Camp. We continued our journey the next morning and, after passing through Sone Kin, reached Leshi in the afternoon. It was just over 41 miles from Taman­thi to Leshi.

The Naga New Year Festival is held every year on January 15th and, that year, we reached Leshi on January 13th  two days be­fore the festival. Ko Sonny Nyein, movie star U Aung Lwin, Ko Soe Myint (Wa/ Tha) and party fromYangon, and Ko Khin Maung Lat (Chit Nyo) and party from Mandalay also came to that year’s Naga festival. The Naga New Year Festival was opened on January 14th  morning with the ceremo­nial raising of the auspi­cious pole. The whole of that day was spent in mak­ing preparations for next day’s New Year Festival. The hat (protectors) poles to be raised at pane were color­fully painted. On January 15th morning, the inaugural ceremony of the festival was attended by all the Naga tribes who had come from every corner of the Naga Land (in Myanmar) who took turns in dancing. Responsible leaders and elders spoke words of guid­ance and for remembrance on the occasion. Gifts were exchanged. The tribes sang traditional Naga songs to the beat of the big Naga traditional drum made of hollowed log installed at pane. Naga khaung yay (in­toxicating brew) and grilled and fried Naga nwar nok (domesticated wild oxen) meat were served in the morning of the ceremony while cooking for dinner that evening went on. The main menu was rice and oxen meat. The oxen meat was cooked in various ways: curried, grilled, baked and fried. The famous Shwe Lan Bo chilli paste of the Naga region was very, very hot.

At the festival, oranges from Sone Kin was one of the items served. Although these oranges were small, their taste was heavenly.

A big bonfire was lit that evening and all those pres­ent drank khaung yay and ate oxen meat and danced around the bonfire. First, each tribe danced by itself but later all the tribes mixed and danced by the bonfire. Later still, all the people who came to the bonfire party joined in the danc­ing. The New Year Festival carried on till well past mid­night. That year, a compre­hensive number of tribes joined in the festivities. Naga tribes like the Tankun, Para, Sheya, Khaung Be, Lei Naung, Ma San, Ponnyo, Nok Aur, Sun, Karyaw, Peinkoo, Yansi, Kyan Phan, etc., gathered at the festival. The number guests from the plains areas and foreign from the plains areas and foreign tourists (excluding guests from government depart­ments) numbered about 90. The guests had to put up at schools and government buildings like health and education departments in Leshi.

As far as the author remembers, there was an old helicopter pad at an elevated place on the upper levels of Leshi. From that elevated point, you can see Mt. Saramati and we were allowed to go there and watch.

The Ministry of Hotels & Tourism held the Naga New Year Festival under its aegis in the years that followed and it was held in Lahe in 2002, Lahe again in 2003 and back in Leshi in 2004. The author went to those three festivals up till 2004. Beginning from 2002, if the festival was held in Lahe, foreign and plains guests were sent from Yangon or Mandalay to Khamti by air, then to Sinthe by boat and thence to Lahe by car. If the festival was held in Leshi, guests from outside the re­gion were sent from Yangon or Mandalay to Hommalin by air, from Hommalin to Pinma by car, crossed the Chindwin by Z-craft to the Tamanthi side and thence to Leshi by car.

The author’s trip to Leshi in 2004 was his final visit to the Naga NewYear Festival which he attended four times every year since 2001. In 2004, the Naga New Year Festival had attained all the attributes of a modern festival. As far as the author can recall, modern ‘stage shows’ were held in parallel with the traditional bon­fire. This makes the author yearn more for the 2001 festival held in accordance with Naga ethnic traditions and customs.

How the author misses the very first Naga New Year Festival he had attended in 2001.

Source: The Traveller Journal