Demystifying the lives of elusive Nagas inhabiting both sides of the Indo-Burmese border, a new photobook challenges their mythical image of 'head-hunters' and captures the dazzling array of colourful tribal culture.
Amsterdam-based photographer Frans Welman steps out of all stereotypes of armed conflicts, in-fighting amongst tribals and extortion by underground groups that has so far been synonymous with the insurgency-hit Nagaland.
His recently published coffee-table size book 'Naga Culture? Free against the odds' is a celebration of their multifaceted culture as represented by the colourful and intricately designed costumes, multi-coloured spears decorated with goat's hair, animistic rituals, folk dances and music.
Tucked off in small villages perched on hilltops overlooking the picturesque valley of north-eastern India, Nagas live a life largely isolated from the mainland India as the Mongolian tribe is separated historically, culturally, linguistically and ethnically from the rest of the country.
The set of 240 photographs in the book by Dev Publishers were clicked by Welman in the last few years during his travel to India and Burma, where the Naga tribes inhabit.
"Wherever they are, it is their distinctive cultural traditions and customs that bind them together. The main idea of the books is to describe how culture is the driving force that has enabled the Nagas to defend invasion in the past. Without culture, these tribes would have vanished," says the photojournalist who also makes documentaries.
Welman has also dissected the impression of Nagas as a head-hunter tribe, which he describes as a "Western colonial assessment".
The lovely visual treat shows Nagas in their full cultural glory and shows how cultural expression and identity binds the various tribes of Nagaland together.
Seeing them in their finest attires during festivals as well as in ordinary life comes across as an extraordinary experience.
Their headgears are made of finely woven bamboo interlaced with orchid stems and adorned with boar's teeth and hornbill's feathers, and ivory armlets.
In youth dormitories known as 'Morung' a log-drum, a huge wooden gong, is kept. It is used as an instrument to communicate as its resonant sound carries over long distances. Each occasion has a special rhythm, which is created by a group of men by beating the log-drum.
Even as the photographs show women and young children slugging with wood cuttings at their back on the hilly roads, the smile on their faces never ceases to go despite the hardships.
Although the many tribes and sub-tribes in Nagaland have distinct language, culture and traditions, it is not easy for an outsider to be able to differentiate among them in the first go as the independent tribes have strong ties to their origin.
"The culture of the Nagas is their driving force to persist, even against the odds. Without culture there is nothing! Culture is the medium, the binding force which invaders cannot crush," reflects the author in one of the articles accompanying the photos.
Also meant for an international audience, the book will soon be released in the Netherlands, Germany and other European nations.