Rhythmic cheering echoed around the streets of Chechema village as hundreds of Naga people, most of them Christians, began pulling a huge rectangular stone.
The traditional stone-pulling ceremony performed by the Angami Naga tribal people in Nagaland in northeast India was the highlight of the Dec. 1-10. Hornbill Festival sponsored by the Christian-majority state.
The function was graced by state Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, a practicing Christian, and federal Tourism Minister K.J. Alphons, a Catholic projected as the Christian face of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Despite Christians forming 90% of Nagaland’s 2 million people, the BJP gained political prominence and became part of the state government following an election in February, which many say was the result of alarming levels of corruption among the political leadership.
“Nagas were animists worshipping every bit of nature” before Christianity arrived in 1871, said Father John Kavas of Kohima Diocese as the men in their traditional costumes pulled the stone 3.5 kilometres to Chipobozou village in the northern Angami Hills in Kohima district.
“Stones were revered and at times pulled from one corner to the other in the spirit of merrymaking, teamwork and a display of valour.”
Nagas change their political affiliation with as much ease and fun as they pull the stone because “they care not much about political parties. Elections are won or lost by candidates,” said Kouley Angami of Chechema village.
“Apparently many Nagas voted for the BJP [because of money]. We are not taking up political matters, but people do raise these questions,” the priest said.