Stereotyping. The act of judging or making assumptions about an individual or groups based on their looks, race, social group, economic status or gender which lead to generalisations. From the mundane to the serious – Methanilie’s songs, conversations over coffee to conferences and business meetings, are we constantly stereotyping each other and our Naga tribes, hence influencing our decisions and responses to one another? Stereotyping can be both positive and negative, and as we read on we see how it has not escaped Nagaland but affected the way we understand the various Naga tribes.
The Naga Tribes Stereotyped
Stereotyping is a way of oversimplifying groups of people and has fortunately or unfortunately become one of the easiest ways of establishing an identity. In Nagaland, stereotyping stems from a commonly-held view about a particular tribe or group and this fallacy may arise from a single incident, which leads to a false assumption about the entire community. It’s like colouring the entire community with the same brush. Whenever we don’t have a good understanding of people or a particular tribe, we tend to make assumptions about them. Stereotypes are nothing but those assumptions that have become common knowledge.
We assume that one’s character and personality are largely shaped by the tribe one belongs to. But how many of us agree with the stereotypes about ourselves? We need to ask this question before we start stereotyping the other tribes. How does stereotyping affect our social relationships at school, work, our friend circles, or our dynamics in the neighbourhood? How does it affect the way we see ourselves and the way we view others?
There’s this song composed and sung by Methanilie, a legendary singer from Nagaland-
“Kohima te thakia khan nisa lage phutani,
Wokha para aha khan chalak, chalak ahise.
Mokokchung thakia khan style kuri ahise,
Zunheboto para aha khan chakara.”
Roughly translated into English, it says Kohima folks have too much attitude, people from Wokha are very cunning, those from Mokokchung are too stylish, and the ones from Zunheboto keep getting into fights. This song gained popularity during the 90s. As a kid, this was the first Nagamese song I learned. Of course, back then I didn’t fully understand the meaning of the lyrics. But as I grew up it dawned on me that this song contains elements of stereotyping. The intention of the singer regarding the idea conveyed is best known to him. Perhaps the singer wrote it based on his own experiences with few people he had come across.
Although I feel that he is at fault for generalising all the tribes purely by his own bias, we, however, cannot simply blame the media and Methanelie for producing such content. Listeners have an immense responsibility for judging and filtering the information they hear, see, or receive. We need to use our own values and knowledge to process the message. We popularised the song.
We Nagas have specific stereotypes regarding each of our tribes. We can easily find such examples in abundance which are familiar to every Naga. We accuse certain tribes of being sly, while others are double-crossers. We classify some tribes as aggressive, while others as misers. Some tribes we say are unsophisticated, and others dipsomaniacs. Sadly, the list goes on.
All these are mere stereotypes without any proof. We tend to prejudice fellow tribes chiefly based on our own experience with one or two people, or maybe tend to pre-assume. We habitually depict stereotypes through offensive songs, stories, and jokes, and thus help keep these ugly stereotypes alive! Stereotypes of this kind must be viewed with caution and be avoided at all cost as it leads to treating groups and communities as single entities.
In one of the TED-Talk shows, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian writer, argues that knowing a single story of a person, tribe, or country can cause misunderstandings, leading to the creation of stereotypes. People are influenced by a single story while remaining oblivious of the many stories that could change one’s perception. What if we see in other tribes and cultures not only what we believe, but the reality? We are so fixated on the narrow-minded perspective. Perhaps, we are victimised by the ‘Ophelia Syndrome’, best described as thinking or feeling a certain way because a person is told so. We fail to think independently due to the presence of social hierarchy and dominant popular culture. At this juncture, when we fail to make decisions based on our own thoughts, we lose our individuality.
Though many of us do not openly endorse these negative beliefs, just the mere awareness of these stereotypes can have undesirable consequences for individuals who are being labelled. It chains them in an identity that is not theirs, to begin with.
Stereotypes have repercussions. It manipulates how we think about a person belonging to a particular tribe and how we behave towards them. “Past studies have shown that people perform poorly in situations where they feel they are being stereotyped”, says Michael Inzlicht, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, in a paper published in the 2010 edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In the article published on the UC Berkely News website, Carol Hyman tells how stereotypes could cause problems in people from early ages. The problem of stereotypes is creating confusion in children as it encourages bullying behaviour that they carry into adulthood.
It’s tough to eradicate all these stereotypes overnight because this is how our society is woven, but we can definitely start teaching our children to value and respect other people for what they are – wonderfully diverse. It is important to disapprove stereotypes in any form. Let’s not bind ourselves with chains which aren’t even real. This will make way for a better tomorrow for us Nagas.
Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. The views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognized Commerce and Arts College. The editors are Dr. Hewasa Lorin, Anjan Behera, Dr. Salikyu Sangtam, Nivibo Yiki, and Kvulo Lorin. For feedback or comments please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.