Nothengpi–the Pride of Rasinja Aklam

Dharamsing Teron

The dust has settled down at Rasinja Aklam, the venue for the annual Zonal Karbi Youth Festival(ZKYF) which started on 27th September and concluded on 1st October 2017. Amidst hectic preparations and high expectations for the Silver Jubilee celebration, the ZKYF was also held in 22 other venues spread across Karbi Anglong, Dima Hasao, Sonitpur and Kamrup. Since 1992, the ZKYF has crossed a historic landmark with this year’s eventin its non-stop journey to help preserve, promote and proliferate Karbi cultural heritages for posterity.The ZKYF has since grown bigger, probably more mature and definitely more popular.Thanks to ZKYF, there is a new surge in awareness and search for roots.Young men are seen taking a new fancy to traditional attire, probably giving out the message that not only young girls, they too can look trendy and smart in choi hongthor, poho and seleng!.

Incessant rains almost played spoilsport this ZKYF and dampened the spirit of the celebration, but not quite. People poured in from all walks of life braving bad weather, slushyand even flooded venues, and joined the celebration everywhere, adding colour and mirth, reinventing the meaning and significance of tradition.People showered their faith in and love for ZKYF and showed why it must retain and spread the ideaof celebrating tradition asa potent means to promote both intra and inter communalunderstanding.

Twenty-five years ago, 18 years after the first ‘Karbi Youth Festival’ (KYF) was held in 1974, the ZKYF was envisioned by the ‘Karbi Cultural Society’ (KCS)to expand its horizon to rural areasand engage the youth in cultural activities. The idea was also to provide rural peopleaccess to an alternative entertainment that was secular and closer to their ways of life. The centrally held annual KYF which started as an immediate response to the state’s repressive and homogenizing attitude in the mid 70safter Assamese was forcibly imposed as official language and Karbi youths’ demand for implementation of Roman Script was suppressed and denied. KYF became instantly popular and people in the grassroots took it upon themselves to host the event with man, money and the newfound motivation to promote their dying traditions. Meanwhile, KYF has itself completed 43 years amidst numerous turning points and has today earned the respect and reputation of being the only organisation which has never defaulted in its record of hosting the event non-stop since 1974. KYF has inspired many more ethnic festivals in the state and is recognized today as the oldest and largest community festival in the country.

Undeniably, ZKYF which has prospered in the shadows of the KYF has a unifying role in promoting cultural nationalismamong the youth to stand their ground against the forces of imposition and the politics of assimilation.The ZKYF (or KYF)has so far been successful in promoting the event and probably the idea of cultural nationalism to some degrees. But what is still woefully lacking is the effort to systematically documentthe surviving traditional cultural forms – be they folk songs or rituals, dances or textile motifs.In the last four decades of the existence of KYF, no such effort has been undertaken in spite of huge potentials.In the last 43 years since 1974 many vulnerable cultural elements must have vanished and not waking up to this perilous situation even now is pure insensitivity.

Amidst such frustrating scenario, there are few rare attempts to identify the dying cultural symbols and bring them in public view.Tekelangjun KCS Zone deserves a huge appreciation for erecting at the ZKYF venue at Rasinja Aklam (Dongmukak)a giant Nothengpi– the traditional silver ear stud worn by elderly Karbi women of the bygone era. And thanks to Mr Badansing Tisso (AEE, PWD, Dokmoka) who conceptualised the giant Nothengpiwhich took nearly two weeks to complete. Mr Tisso and his team worked over time by staying awake the whole night of 26th September to complete the structure well in time for the inaugural function, which he dedicated to the memory of his late mother Kasang Beypi. The familiar symbol, brought to public view in giant scale for the first time, became a big draw among visitors and seemingly unending streams of selfie lovers, elderly men and women thronged to see the structure. In any case, the hastily erected structure had much finer touches still remaining to be done to make it look more professional and artistic; the age old cultural symbol seems to have touched every culture lover.

Mr. Badan Tisso and Rasinja Aklam have demonstrated the fact that the Nothengpiwas not just a piece of outdated jewellery worn by elderly Karbi women in colonial heyday. Many rural Karbi households have continued to preserve the Nothengpi as a souvenir from a bygone era even if the practical use of the cultural artefact has gone out of fashion.Nothengpi is just one of the many such cultural symbols which have either vanished physically or just waiting to be discovered by some discerning eyes and bring back the past to serve the present.

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