Naga/Nagaland/Zeliang Dance

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Folk songs and dances are essential ingredients of the traditional Naga culture. The oral tradition is kept alive through the media of folk tales and songs. Naga folk songs are both romantic and historical, with songs narrating entire stories of famous ancestors and incidents. Seasonal songs describe activities done in a particular agricultural cycle. The early Western missionaries opposed the use of folk songs by Naga Christians as they were perceived to be associated with spirit worship, war and immorality. As a result, translated versions of Western hymns were introduced, leading to the slow disappearance of indigenous music from the Naga hills.

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Folk dances of the tribes are mostly performed in groups in synchronized fashion, by both men and women, depending on the type of dance. Dances are usually performed at festivals and religious occasions. War dances are performed mostly by men and are athletic and martial in style. All dances are accompanied by songs and war cries by the dancers. Indigenous musical instruments made and used by the people are bamboo mouth organs, cup violins, bamboo flutes, trumpets, drums made of cattle skin, and log drums.

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Most of the dances are performed in groups. The most artistic dance of the state is the Zeliang dance. Strangely it is the monopoly of men, except in Zeliang tribe where women join with their men folk in dancing. Most of the dances are performed by clapping and chanting of some formulae. The beauty of the dances is raised by the colourful costumes. Dance is a very important part of life in rural Nagaland.

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Folk dances of Nagaland are performed mainly in a synchronized manner in groups by women as well as men, based on the kind of dance. Dances are generally performed in religious and festive occasions. Mainly the Naga men perform war dances. This dance is martial and athletic in style. All the folk dances of Nagaland are performed along with war cries and songs by the dancers. There are several folk dances in Nagaland which are generally performed at the time of harvest. The folk dances are filled with frolic and fun since these dances are performed when the people are enjoying a special event. Each Naga tribe has its own dance, but they have a common feature. All the folk dances of Nagaland require the using of legs while keeping the body in an upright position.

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War Dance is the most famous dance of the state. It involves a great deal of expertise as the performers go through dangerous war motions. Even a little bit of carelessness can prove highly dangerous. Nagas never perform individually, they always dance in a group. The dancers wear colorful and graceful dresses which add more charm to the dance. The dresses of the dancers resemble the costumes of the warriors. The dancers also hold silver, brass and iron ornaments to make the performance more interesting.

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The Naga dance generally includes erect postures with unbent knees. Complex leg movements and simple hand movements are the characteristics of the dance. Some of the dances have been named according to the dance steps, resembling with the birds, insects or animals. For instance Nruirolians (cock dance), resembles the trait of a cock. No musical instrument is used in any folk dance of Nagaland.

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It is noticed in a majority of the cases that the folk dances of Nagaland are performed by males. However, the Zeliang tribe of Nagaland permits their women to take part in the folk dances with men. During a performance, the participants start entering slowly into the stage or arena with some distinctive movements and stand making a circle or other geometrical shape. After that, the dancers adjust the beats and then start dancing by stamping the foot on a continuous pace. The dances of this tribe are interspersed by chanting some set words in chorus and the clapping of hands. These shouting and chanting provides inspiration to every member of the group.

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After forming a circle, the dances make attack on the opposite party or an imaginary enemy with the spears which they hold in their hands. They swing these weapons as per the rhythm of dance, in order to create a beautiful musical background. The Nagas dress themselves in ceremonial war-type costume and brass and silver ornaments and other ornaments made of iron in order to beautify their look in the dance. As a result of the regional differences, some changes of very small quantity are observed in the pattern of dance. In general, this dance involves the upright body position at upper part, while the unbent or straight knees always keep equilibrium of movements. After attaining the climax, again the tempo is brought down and it is thus accompanied by a great increase in shouts, calls and cries.

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