Documentation of Traditional Knowledge

The picturesque Naga hills consisting of a crinkled landscape of hills and valleys through which streams and rivers meander, has changed over the years. Traditional knowledge and wise-use practices too are eroding with time. Yet, the people have fascinating stories to tell and oral traditions to relay on the flora and fauna the area. Many of these throw light on current events. For example, the Sema believe that after they die, their souls are carried by falcons to the hill of the dead at Wokha (the site of the massive Amur falcon migration). This suggests that the Amur migration to Wokha is not a recent event but happened in the past. Other stories tell of wise-use practices. Jhuming or shifting cultivation involves clearing the land and burning the jungle, so people propitiated the spirit with rice, and rice beer to beg for forgiveness for the many animals, plants, birds and reptiles that might be inadvertently harmed (Longchar, 2000). Hence the clearing of forest or the killing of animals was not taken lightly by the Sema tribe given the kinship that exists between humans and all of nature. The Chengmu (the Great Barbet) is the time keeper of the Sema people, while the Sema  agricultural calendar was attuned to nature, guided by the movement of the stars or of birds-their migration patterns, breeding seasons and songs. For example, the sowing of paddy was initiated only when the constellation of Orion (Phogwosiilesipfemi) is at its zenith or after the Kasupapo, a species of cuckoo  was heard calling. The Naga tribes had several taboos and traditions to regulate hunting of species during certain seasons.  Amongst Semas for example, several gennas and taboos for the killing of certain game exist; or example, whoever killed a tiger had to remain chaste for six days.

To document these practices and the folklore, traditions and usage patterns of their flora and fauna, we have helped the local people document their biodiversity and traditions in the form of People’s Biodiversity Registers. So excited are the people, about these records, that in one village, a member of the community made one thousand copies of the PBR to distribute to neighbouring villages.

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