Friday, April 15, 2016

Tokhu Emong- Lothas Celebrating their Heritage

Our trip to North East India officially commenced with "Tokhu Emong" festival celebrated in Wokha by the Lotha tribe from November 4th to 7th. Tokhu literally means 'Festival' in Lotha. This post harvest festival has been celebrated since time immemorial. The entire village comes together in their best traditional attire and exhibit their talent. There are many competitions including indigenous games, rock concerts, food stalls and 3 days don't seem to be enough to experience the extravaganza and celebrations.

The significance of this festival is to forget enmity or animosity, a loan is either repaid or forfeited. It stands for a fresh beginning and letting bygones be bygones. Nagaland has 16 official tribes and though Christianity in these hills has been around for over hundred years and have completely taken over but the age old Naga tradition that cannot be dated still thrives and flourishes.

November 7th is when Tokhu Emong is celebrated in full glory whereas on November 4-6th celebrations start in the form of rock concerts and competitions. Team Metamorphosis, a group of young, vibrant and socially responsible individuals were solely responsible for organizing this festival and making it a success. From November 4 to 6, this team took the initiative to organize indigenous sporting events such as Yodelling (the art of call making), spear throwing, basket making, traditional fire making, stilt bamboo race, top spinning, catapult shooting, bamboo greased pole climbing, Naga cart pushing. While all the events were amazing, the Naga cart pushing and bamboo greased pole climbing were simply the show stoppers. A hand made wooden cart is pushed down a slope. The craftsmanship and skill put into these carts are truly amazing. The bamboo creased pole climbing was the ultimate fun event where youngsters attempt to climb on a super greased bamboo.

Music is considered a religion here in these hills and what better way to end a day than with some brilliant performances by the local bands.

On the 7th of November, the main day of the festival, the entire Lotha tribe gather together and celebrate as one big family. The entire Lotha tribe looks forward eagerly for this festival, they are groomed up with most of them wearing their traditional tribal outfits and take a lot of pride in celebrating their heritage. They look very sharp and elegant, it was incredible to see the younger generations of Lotha tribe represent their villages and organize the entire festival in a very professional and flawless manner. The who is who of Nagaland had gathered together. On the last day of the festival, the Nagas exhibit their time immemorial culture through crisp skits, song and dance followed by a feast.

They performed a skit enacting how the tribe used to raid other villages in earlier times. They used to raid neighboring villages and come back with heads of their enemies as war trophies and it was only the heads of prominent people like the Chief and his deputies that were the target. Apparently, this was considered as an extreme feat of courage and the Headhunter would receive wedding proposals. Upon successful raids, they used a unique war cry to announce victory. Once they attained victory, their exit strategy was ingenious and phenomenal yet simple.  They would go in circles and criss-cross in complex patterns, thus making it impossible for anyone to follow their footprints and reach their village. Post the victorious raid, the women of the tribe would serve exquisite food and rice beer to the warriors. After the feast, the villagers would gather together and celebrate by dancing and singing. All villagers had to participate in this dance, this dance was performed by the Lotsu village of Nagaland.

The skit was followed by a dance which was performed by the tribe while working in the fields. The dance showed farmers removing weed from their field after sowing seeds. The tradition is when they start the song they shouldn't stop until the field is completely clear of weed. During this process the farmers were protected by muscle men of the village from animals and enemies.

This was followed by a portrayal of a wedding ceremony of Lothas. 'Loroe Eso' which means 'bringing Damsel Home.' According to their tradition, the bride is brought to their village in a grand manner and The Damsel is escorted with music and flowers. The wedding procession starts post sunset as it is considered a taboo if an animal crosses their path and to ensure this does not happen the villagers carry traditional torch.

The grand finale was an amazing dance performance put forward by Phiro village. There is a splinted group of four who perform a very unique dance that is exclusive to their tribe alone. This village is over 1000 years old and they are believed to be descendants from Mongolia and are the ones to set up the first Lotha village.

The stage for the event was completely made of natural material that are abundant and locally available. The centre stage was made with bamboos that were held together with natural ropes. This shows how they were able to survive and flourish prior to modern developments. The final event of the festival was a lucky draw and the prize given away was freshly slaughtered pork. No surprise that the first prize was Pork Head followed by legs.

Travelling to Wokha village and experiencing Tokhu Emong is one of the best experiences we would ever have. Before even the festival could start, we were greeted by smiling faces and a young chap dressed in his traditional Lotha attire welcomed us and little did we know this was just the start to many awesome experiences that were to follow. Mr. Thanga gave us a detailed tour of the venue and patiently answered all our questions. He made us feel like we were also part of Lotha tribe and later we got to know that he was the elected chairman of his community. He was such a humble person who wanted to make sure that we guests have a great time. He was our official host and explained the traditional significance and events that were unfolding. He treated us with a shot of traditionally brewed rice beer which was phenomenally good and tasted like buttermilk just a little sour. It is a very safe drink to consume as it is completely organic.

The entire village was so kind and generous that we were treated with a great lunch not just once but twice. The second lunch was more of a family event for which we were invited by Mr. Thanga's community. The lavish spread included smoked beef, beautifully cooked pork neatly packed in banana leaves, organic and farm fresh salad, boiled vegetables, crab pickle, dal and rice with black tea and bananas served post lunch. The kids and the elders showered us with so much love and along with lunch provided us very valuable travel snippets. If this was not enough they bid adieu by gifting us over a dozen of the sweetest bananas. Such kind of love and affection can never be experienced in the best of luxurious hotels. It is such a disgrace for any of us to either racially profile, discriminate or resort to name calling such lovely people.

In our opinion North East Indians seem to celebrate life and have lot of fun. The sheer number of festivals stand as fine testimony. We began our culinary treat by digging into steaming hot pork momo, it was our first time and it was wonderful. It pretty much tasted like chicken momo. Pork is a staple diet of Nagas and sticky rice roti seems to be their favorite. This traditional dish is a must try the sticky rice is hand grinded and then mixed with roti dough.

The Tokhu Emong festival is held at public grounds, autos are plentiful and would be the best way to commute. Do remember to carry warm clothes as the temperature drops significantly post sunset. During the festival (Nov 6th and 7th are official dates) the entire Wokha town is shut including hotels and eateries, small paan shops are the only exceptions.


  1. Thank you so much for giving a 'first hand experience' review of the people. I am half Lotha myself. Feels good to read such good things about our people. This should be the spirit of any true Indian. God bless!

  2. I am so delighted to read your post on Lotha Tokhu Emong from your travel experience.
    From your post I sense that you enjoyed the cultural display and the habitability of the people. :)


    1. Yeah we just loved our time in Wokha, such a pretty place and amazing people :)

  3. Nice post. This was really helpful post, thanks!