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Home for Christmas

Home for Christmas

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Christmas in Nagaland

Explore the musings of a reflective soul as they navigate the highs and lows of a transformative year, culminating in a homecoming for Christmas. The narrative delves into the emotions, experiences, and unique perspectives on life, death, and the connection between the living and the departed, with a focus on the customs of the Angamis tribe in Nagaland.

Well, I’ll be damned, the wind is winding up the year like last year. Up here in the hills, the air is cold and the feeling is warm. This is the year of journey, I proclaimed somewhere in my previous writings and in all honesty, I am tired. Christmas and the feelings I get, the thoughts of wins and losses, ahh! life’s illusions. By the end of February I was buried inside, by March I found myself resurrected in the hills, July at bars, bourbon on ice, barefoot ran past spring. Autumn in the city of tombs, I waved at the ghost of ourselves, it was a double passive suicide. And here I am at home for Christmas, staring at my laptop thinking perhaps I can extrapolate something about the year and sew something into these pages, an intention – a good intention hopefully.

In the light of the laptop screen, I turn the pages of my trusty diary, filled with buried ghosts about this and that, about him and her, about here and there. In the cold light, I sit, nicotine-stained fingers on the keyboard eyes on the screen, *blink *blink. I put on Billie Holiday and let it surge in the background with waves of blues, staring at the screen trying to catch a feeling about the holidays and the ghost and all the decay of the year behind me. There I see, striding writhing straight into my arms, my morbid proclivities something about rest. “Home for Christmas” is a sentiment I have faith in, somehow the phrase evokes a sense of belonging, where the familiar voices and faces surround the tired heart and feet. “Home for Christmas”, is something about the idea of returning, back in the fold- as they say. Something about everyone being there, we’ve got only people and then you think, will we have this hour again, will the next home for Christmas be the same? But for now, their eyes glow equally to the star they put up on the town square. Dances of heart and gathering of souls, the air is laced with sentiments of rest and connection with family and the place where one feels most welcomed and loved. After all, the journey throughout the year is sometimes revolting and leaves us with aching feet and souls. So, like the seasons that take their moments to change, we too must surrender to the quietude of repose. We the travelers, rest we must, rest is a must, once or twice and many times in the years till we are charged enough to carry on, till rest becomes inevitable.

Death ceremony in Nagaland during Christmas

Speaking of the final resting place, where will you lay rest for the last time? For most of us, it might be a cemetery (we never know *side eyes), but that’s not the case for some tribes of Nagaland. For, if you belong to these tribes you can lay rest peacefully in the comfort of your own backyard or front yard (a win for the introvert’s soul) {*side note- introvert is what I claim to be, but my friends will bury me alive if they hear me claiming that}. Anyway, living with the Dead in all literal sense, seems like a horrid affair to bear, an affair some might sneer at the idea. But, in the Nagas hills a group of Nagas do so without any qualms, a wonderful relationship, a revelation of profound care and love. Villages have no cemetery, and the dead rest in the family backyard or front yard, and seeing that my death positivity heart jolts with joy. This particular Naga community does not maintain a cemetery(an information that is not new to the other Nagas.). It’s worth noting that this custom is shared by some other Naga groups as well.

Living with the dead. Before we leap to any conclusions, which is almost always in the line of *what the actual Forks and Spoons (especially when the subject is death). Let me share a thought, dear readers, after researching (and still is) about corpses and cemeteries it occurs to me that every culture, like different forks and spoons in a drawer, has crafted its unique way of dealing with the dead. Think of the ancient Greeks, who embraced the warmth of cremation, while the Cattatians who consumed their dead, regarded cremation as horror. or the Wari tribe of Brazil, who showed their reverence by consuming their dead. Over time each society has woven its distinctive tapestry of farewell, a reflection of their worldviews. Yet, beneath the underlying idea shared by these cultures is the profound respect they have for the deceased, expressed through various methods. There is more than one way to take care of the dead and how to lay their mortal coil to rest. 

Cremation ground

The Angamis group occupies the imposing Naga hills, predominantly in the Kohima DistrictChümoukedima District, and Dimapur District in the Northeast Indian state of Nagaland. Traditionally the bodies of their men and women are adorned with a symphony of hues while feathers and ornaments glitters in the sun. Their traditional dance moves like poetry, while the land is adorned with stories and myths of snakes and stones, of warriors and weavers. Unlike in the Ao villages and other Nagas, generally one would not find a cemetery in Angami villages (as in a common specific burial ground for the whole community). Here, amidst the emerald landscape, there is no conventional cemetery that stretches as a collective resting place for the departed. Once, like their other Naga counterparts, the Angamis practiced corpse exposure, as suggested by oral tradition and other research. However, these practices faded, the reason being (according to oral tradition) that instead of working, people would stop and weep for the dead, resulting in negligence of work adversely affecting crops. Scholars speculate about this evolution, attributing it to a “change in taste” driven by hygienic considerations, among other factors. Remarkably, this transformation predates the influence of colonial rulers, suggesting an organic evolution within the community.

But, why don’t they have a cemetery? Why doesn’t the tribe have a cemetery? I query, to which an elder replied nonchalantly, “Why do we need it? There is no need for a cemetery”. And it clicked, that was it, why would they need it. You see, what may seem customary or necessary in one community holds a different truth for another. The absence of a cemetery in this tribe is not an oversight but a deliberate choice, steeped in a unique worldview. Souls are woven into the fabric of the sacred land of the village, death may be many things but it cannot rob you of your people, even in death you are part of the community and your community will take care of that. To paraphrase what an elder said, there will always be land for the community members to lay their final rest. Other reasons aside, it is important that we aim our focus on the deep human connection that the community shares. What beautiful is the continuum of care and connection with the dead, the land, and the living, what beautiful is the tradition. It’s essential to acknowledge that this perspective, although laced with romanticization, aims not to fetishize death but to nudge you into looking at death with a softer lens.

deaths

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Molai

Today (18-12-23 )is an uneventful day like yesterday and the day before, and I cannot find anything worthwhile to write about. I guess happiness is an uneventful subject. Notes on the table, tasks on the mind, they sit heavy. The task of life is heavy, and things seem so unstable but being home for Christmas makes things stand still for a moment. I gather my hopes and find my repose, which I harvest between the sighs and smiles shared between meals and teas. For the record, the spirit of the kite is akin to me, that’s how I feel. Eyes close traversing the sky, smooth air sail. For now, the sun blazes above my head and I can feel the green blades under my feet. My body breathes in and out and I’ll remind myself to be kinder. Keep the flames at bay, what do you say?

Hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

And as always

Wish you a good life and a good death.

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