As the last of the lights go off, a blanket of darkness cloaks the village for yet another night. A sharp chorus from a throng of crickets penetrates the hush of the black, starless night. You enter your hut; latch the wooden door before switching off the lights and turn in too. Ten in the night in a city may be late evening but for your host and other residents of Touphema, the Naga Angami village, it is past midnight. Like a good guest, you follow the rules.
Though the people of Touphema, in Nagaland’s Kohima district, may be like any other rural folk in the North-eastern State in their habits, a few factors set them apart. The difference is the reason for your visit to Touphema.
This difference, in both thought and action, defines their community life in Touphema, which began in 1985 and continues in phases. So much so that today, the village is an example to others on how communities can be self-reliant and even propel the government machinery to chip in with help. The development story in Nagaland, like many parts of the region, has been disproportionate. Though it became a state in 1963, the State Transport Department has not been able to connect most rural areas well with Kohima. And the villagers need to commute to government offices, hospitals and business establishments in the capital city on a daily basis. The inhabitants of Touphema too felt helpless. Unlike others, they decided to act. “Even though Touphema was just 41 km from Kohima, there was no state transport or private service. Villagers felt that the government can’t do everything. So in 1985, all the 600 households contributed whatever money they could to buy a mini-bus for regular commuting to Kohima,” says Atsubu, a young man from the village. Since then, the bus has been plying to Kohima and back twice a day.
“It has made our lives easier. We can now procure goods and medicines easily; those ailing can think of going to Kohima for treatment any day. Interestingly, people from the nearby areas have also started using our bus. So we make some profit from ticket sales,” he adds gleefully. Since most villagers are Christians and need money, particularly during Christmas festivities. Says Atsubu: “The village council, which runs the service, shares the profit among the households at that time of the year.”
After crafting this self-funded public commuting service, the people of Touphema embarked on another successful model in 2001. This one is linked as much to their livelihood as to documenting their lives and crafts.
With Nagaland opening its doors to tourists in early 2000, villagers decided to host tourists to earn an extra income. They came up with the idea of a tourist village. A villager offered his ancestral land on a hillock for the purpose. They modelled it on a traditional Angami village. Twelve Angami clans or khel from Touphema and surrounding villages funded it. Each khel built a hut, with facades that have the traditional Naga symbols like mithun (animal), da (sword), jathi (spear), cup (for prosperity) and so on.
“Though the khels provided the labour and the huts were built from local material, we needed money for other things like running a kitchen, salary for the staff, buying bathroom fittings and furnishings, landscaping, and so on. The village council had some funds but we needed more. So we borrowed from a government agency. Till date, we have a debt of ₹30 lakh,” says Neitho Kense, managing director of the initiative.
Their effort is yet to yield profits though with the growing number of tourists in Nagaland, Kense says that day is not far. “It will happen eventually. For instance, during the Hornbill Festival, we get good occupancy. We are getting both domestic and European tourists. The Nagaland Tourism Board helps us in promoting it,” he says.
Once the tourist village began to receive visitors, villagers added a museum to it to promote the Angami way of life. “We wanted to showcase our history, how people lived in olden times and what they used. Exhibits were collected from each household to fill up the museum,” states Kense. Chairs made of elephant tusks, bamboo jars, baskets, paddy storage bins, grinders, traditional clothes, jewellery and headgear, utensils, musical instruments, spears, bows and arrows used by Angami youth: these are some of the exhibits on display. An amphitheatre, built when Touphema boy Neipho Rio was the chief minister of Nagaland, is used for football matches and Sekrenyi, an Angami festival celebrated in February every year.
The village council oversees the tourist village and the museum. Atsubu and Kense are among the staffers. After a fee is paid, Atsubu takes a visitor for a trip to the village. You can see their barns and bedrooms, kitchens and courtyards, the morungs (traditional bachelor pads) and the memorial stones. Don’t miss the heads of hunted animals lining the verandas of the huts.
Village youth cook Naga dishes for the visitors. You can savour delicious chutneys made of spring onions and cherry tomatoes, besides meats and eggs cooked with bamboo shoots and local vegetables. Corn mixed with honey is an attraction at the breakfast table.
So what does Touphema lack? “We have two primary and middle schools but students have to go out of the village after the standard VIII. This pushes some to drop out of school,” says Atsubu. Thanks to the former CM’s sprawling bungalow, where he spends some time of the year, the village even has a mobile tower!
Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty is a Delhi-based freelance journalist