NAGAS AND MODERNISATION: ARE WE LOSING OUR IDENTITY? – Amenla Jamir, Asst. Professor, Department of Education

The Nagas have come a long way from our grandparents’ culture to the present day lifestyle. There has been a paradigm shift with the onset of modernisation and the affluence towards the Western culture; and we have effortlessly adopted the ways of it. But are we modern in the true sense or are we just trying to be a part of the trend? Trying to act modern will not do any good to our society unless we have the right attitude and mindset about it. There have been developments of superficial Westernisation in matters of dress, food, habits and other activities which have seriously challenged the Naga traditional way of life; and while we are in the race of imitating the West, let us make sure that we do not lose out on our good old traditions that create our identity. 


Nagas today impose certain social and economic entities in defining the concept of modernity. It is disheartening to see that very often Westernisation has been confused with modernisation, and vice-versa. It is obvious that one cannot be fully understood without the other, but that doesn’t mean they mean the same. Modernisation can be understood as the process by which a country moves from a traditional agrarian society to having a more secular urbanised society and in the process it remoulds the cultural system into a new mode. On the other hand, Westernisation would mean that a certain indigenous cultural element is replaced by the Western element, and the functional role of the former is taken over by the latter. Modernisation is advancement towards betterment and moving forward with positive results. In Westernisation there is no newness or innovation because individuals only tend to follow the ways or archetypes that are already prescribed by the Western culture.

Like other traditional societies, the Nagas also possess a rich tradition and heritage. They have their own set of values and moral standards preset by the cultural paradigm. In the past few decades, immense modifications have crept into the Naga society. The introduction of Western education and Christian faith brought about tremendous changes in the Naga way of life and belief systems. This has also resulted in a drastic shift in the socio-cultural system. Modern education improves livelihood and health status. The spread of Christianity in Nagaland has both positive and negative impacts on the Naga society. The changes are observed in the belief system, mindset’ and attitudes of the people. Today many young people do not even remember the traditional stories, the songs and dances. They do not understand the significance of the patterns on their tribal shawls, nor do they revere nature as once their ancestors did.

Naga society changed drastically and completely within the span of just one century. Today traditional Naga attires, dances, and other cultural symbols can be seen only during important occasions and in celebrations like the Hornbill Festival. Are trends like driving expensive cars, going to discotheques, eating out every weekend considered being modern? Today in the Naga society, everyone wears Western clothes. There is nothing wrong in it, but believing wearing Western clothes makes one modern is a flawed ideology.  People tend to think of ‘Western’ and ‘Modern’ as synonyms, which is erroneous. What makes a person modern is evolution of thoughts, not imitation of the Western culture. Certain celebrities imitate Korean trends in terms of dressing and grooming, and we mindlessly emulate these thinking we are being modern, while at the same time we don’t think twice about littering our roads and spitting paan juice all over the place. Musicians today, are they actually expressing the Naga voice, or are they trying an imitation of the Western popular culture? People here rush to KFC and Pizza Hut with the concept in mind that eating there makes them hip and modern. It is sheer ignorance of the philosophies of the west, coupled with blind desire to imitate them that actually results in the decadence of our true identity.

The Western countries are already modernised and advanced. There is no such harm in adoption of Western patterns. But it is really harmful when in the shade of adoption we start condemning our own great cultural patterns and heritage. Western countries are financially better off than we are, and they can afford to lead the lifestyle they follow. Instead of focusing on more crucial areas, why are we trying to mimic them? Are we spending more than we earn just because we want to be a part of a trend? It is morbidly humourous to see some of our youth going to the fish market in attires fit for a party at a 5 Star Hotel. We just don’t seem to know when to start and when to quit the art of copying.

It is the choice of the individuals: do they want to be developed and advanced and be modern in the true sense, or do they simply want to become mere imitators? The Society must respect its own culture and heritage first. Following other cultures and lifestyles should not be done at the cost of losing respect for our own culture. Adoption of any Western patterns and norms is not wrong when first the society becomes self- sufficient and knows how to strike a right balance between adhering to their own cultural patterns and adopting foreign cultural ideologies.
The Nagas are indeed in the fast lane when it comes to developments, be it in terms of infrastructure or pop culture. Many dramatic transformations have been taking place in the society. Today in our society this process of modernisation is overwhelmed with Western ideas, images, and concepts. With this trend continuing, the external pressure is so strong that it is sweeping the treasures of our rich tradition. Now the question that we need to ponder is the perception of Nagas modernity. Today the level of modernity is measured in terms of materialism and power of wealth.

If our society has to catch up with the fast changing world, it is imperative that we forego part of our traditional beliefs and practices to meet the demands of the time. Our immediate task should be to sharpen and broaden the scope of our modern education which will lead to a better understanding of the West and changing times it will help us to cope with the fast changing world. Our main concern should be to fill the communication gap between the West and the East, otherwise our culture will soon vanish. In the quest for modernity, let’s not be deluded into accepting Westernisation as modernisation. Let our own culture not metamorphosize into an alien foreign culture even without our realisation. Let us not allow our own culture to become a thing of the past.

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