Day 6: Of Angamis & Stone-Pulling
The energy, the colours, the rituals… Rupert Winchester loved everything about the Angami stone-pulling ritual. This ritual takes place every five years and he was lucky to witness it this year! Here’s a first hand account from him…
The day started with us heading to Kohima Town for the annual ‘stone pulling’ ritual. Described in the Hornbill Festival literature as one of the highlights of the annual celebrations, this event is a must-attend!
The police had shut off the town centre, which didn’t help the Nagaland traffic situation, but was eminently sensible. Kohima was heaving with men and women in their traditional tribal dress; diamond-patterned gaiters, wooden biceps rings, long flowing robes in the tribal colours, feathered earrings and huge bamboo and feather headdresses.
The Angami Nagas have been pulling stones for hundreds of years. Anthropologists describe it thus: ‘stones were moved from a distant quarry into the village as a way for the man who sponsored the stone pulling to build prestige.’
They further point out that this stone-pulling ritual was performed in the context of societies where “leadership was based solely on achievement.” In other words, not only were these people moving some seriously massive rocks, but they were doing it without any centralized or hierarchical organizational structure.
This being India, more or less, the stone pulling was organised on Indian time, and eventually kicked off over an hour late. But there wasn’t a moment to be bored, with the sumptuously dressed Nagas milling about in the streets, and various random characters tossing kiwi-fruit sized fireworks into the gutters. One went off quite near me, startling me to such an extent that I upended my coffee over myself, much to the amusement of the crowd. And many of the tribes people were armed with fearsome-looking shotguns which they occasionally loosed off into the air, adding to the fun. The whole thing was cheerful chaos, something you come to appreciate in India.
Eventually the pulling started. And, promptly, the ropes broke. More ropes were procured, which immediately snapped as well. Finally the mythical rock, hidden from my view around a bend up the road, started its kilometre or so journey, dragged by many hundreds of men.
At long last, the stone hove into view, and was suitably impressive. A man standing next to me told me, it weighed 10 tonnes, and I could well believe it. It was about the size of a stretch limo. Mounted on a wooden sleigh, with a half a dozen men perched on the top encouraging the pullers, the hundreds of tribespeople, chanting traditional stone-pulling songs, dragged the limestone monolith past.
The feathers on the headdresses quivered as if the very air was pixellated. As the stone passed me, there were a few moments of almost primal energy moving in the atmosphere, a thunderous, roaring, almost animal power was unleashed as the vast rock ground its way down the road, pulled by the enthusiastic Nagas.
Following the rock were hundreds of female Nagas, dressed very prettily in their traditional garb, and carrying their woven head-baskets, filled with vegetables and blankets. Apparently the men are rewarded for their efforts at the end of the day with a generous quantity of rice beer, so perhaps it is wise for the women to come prepared for anything.
Held once in 5 years, this Angami stone-pulling ritual is all things wonderful interesting. To attend this grand spectacle, BOOK NOW!