The contents of the BBC article on the Khonoma people of Nagaland does little justice to its subject.
The BBC’s report on the Khonoma people of Nagaland is only the most recent example of misleading and half-hearted articles usually written about the northeast. Khonoma, a centuries-old settlement, is now widely regarded as Asia’s first ‘green village’.
The 10 September article titled, The Indian tribe that gave up hunting to save forests, greatly misrepresents the Angami people who live in the Khonoma village in Kohima district. Although the title is catchy, the content does little justice to its subject. Instead of portraying the positive changes in a village, the article keeps harping on the negative.
Writer-photographer Sayan Hazra supposedly “chronicles life in the village years after it banished the practice (of hunting)”. But Hazra does not even get his basics right.
He does not once mention the name of the tribe—Angami—in his article, instead, calling them “tribes” and “Khonoma tribe”.
The article calls hunting a source of livelihood for the people of Khonoma, which signifies that it is an occupation. This is misleading because hunting has never been a source of livelihood for the tribes in the northeast.
Hunting is practiced as a sport, or to kill time, or for other purposes such as to get medicinal ingredients. It is not a source of income because northeastern tribes domesticate animals for consumption. Wild animals are not a part of the daily diet. Moreover, the weapons used were not modern so the idea of large-scale hunting is out of the question.
Hunting is not a simple activity—it involves life and death—to be an occupation or means of livelihood.
Surely, tribal people in the northeast do not spend most of their time ‘hunting’— that is an overrated statement. People in these tribes are most often agriculturists or cultivators by occupation. A practice that goes on all year long. Hunting, on the other hand, is practiced during the off-season and that also lasts for two months. No, the people of Khonoma did not pass their time hunting.
In recent times, villagers have gained access to modern weapons and have understood the value of selling what they hunt. This has no doubt increased hunting, or rather poaching. These are illegal businesses and have nothing to do with the traditional hunting practices of the northeastern tribes. Indeed, Khonoma became a model green village because of its initiative to conserve flora and fauna of the region. The village formed the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary.
Even as the BBC article claims to chronicle life after forest conservation in the village, the contents of the report don’t mention any such life. It rather focuses on the local tradition of keeping the heads of hunted animals in their homes. Hazra seems to have a pre-conceived notion about tribes in the northeast. The article states “while most of the hunters have given up their rifles, some still display the heads of the animals they had killed”. Does conservation have anything to do with the age-old display practice? Or does he mean to say that everything old, like the display, should be discarded if one is to conserve forests?
Hazra appears to be fascinated by guns and weapons. More than two paragraphs of the article are dedicated to the weapons used for hunting, contrary to what the title of the article would entail. In the process, Hazra actually portrays tribal customs and practices of the northeast as backward.
The BBC article on the Khonoma village is merely a scenic report.
Although the theme and title suggest a story of a massive movement for change, the article only talks about traditional practices and the culture of a certain tribe. It paints a very negative picture of the village and the Angami people who have been fierce warriors against the British invaders. The successful efforts by the villagers towards conservation of nature and wildlife are nowhere to be found.
Asia’s first green village deserves a much better narrative than this.
The author is a journalist.
(An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated that a photograph of the people of Khonoma depicted two women holding weapons. We regret the erroneous statement.)