Symbols of pride and honor, brandished ceremoniously in the past, fell through the changing times of progress, to be forgotten and condemned. This is the story of the indigenous tattoos of Nagaland that captivated the audience at Moranngam Khaling, a.k.a. Mo Naga’s talk, on the second day of Article-19, which concentrated on unconventional approaches to India’s fading traditions and the role of mainstream media in the same.
Mo’s research as a student of design from NIFT, Hyderabad, is what led to his discovery of the tattoo culture in the northeast. The culture came to an end right after independence for these tattoos were linked back to headhunting practices from which it originated. But Mo disagrees. “It’s about ornamentation, their beliefs, and their identities.”
In an attempt to spread awareness and to bring back the tattoo culture, Mo set out to research the tattoos of the various tribes of the northeast.
All of the stories he came across and the swirling whirlpool of difficulties he faced gathering them calls for quite an interesting tale. Those precious few members of tribes still bearing the traditional tattoos are aged and fragile. Many bearing exclusive and unique tattoos have passed on before their stories were heard. The revival of this culture seems to be a race against time and considering the remoteness of many of the villages and tribes; it is also a race against resources.
While Mo had various experiences to share, one that stood out was the story of the Apatani tribe. Emphasising the role of the media in spreading the story, Mo spoke of the misconceptions and misinterpretations of legends among the people and the natives themselves, owing to misguided articles. The story that is popularly believed states that the women are marked with the tattoo and nose plugs so that they appear ugly. Apparently the women hailing from this tribe were subject to harassment and were kidnapped by neighbouring tribes because of their beauty. To end such practices and to safeguard the women, they were made to look ugly. The original legend, as Mo narrates, seems to be the exact opposite. Centuries ago, a young girl was distressed to find herself unmarried while all of her friends had found their partners and so she prayed to the Gods to find her a suitable match. Legend has it that the Gods asked her to mark herself with the sap of the blue pine tree, sacred in pagan beliefs following which she found a most charming suitor.
To end such practices and to safeguard the women, they were made to look ugly. The original legend, as Mo narrates, seems to be the exact opposite. Centuries ago, a young girl was distressed to find herself unmarried while all of her friends had found their partners and so she prayed to the Gods to find her a suitable match. Legend has it that the Gods asked her to mark herself with the sap of the blue pine tree, sacred in pagan beliefs following which she found a most charming suitor.
There were various other tales of travels and significance of tattoos that were shared expressing the depths to which the culture is extended. Unlike many others, Mo Naga believes in tattoo as art and not just symbolism. This is why he has borrowed and taken inspiration from many traditional tattoos and also indigenous textiles and fabric to create his own designs. He looks forward to the expansion of his studio, Headhunters Ink in Godna Gram where he wishes to include tattoo art from all over India in order to preserve or traditional and cultural art. So the next time someone accuses tattoos as being symbols of westernization, you know what to say.
Sameer Hashmi, Alumnus of MIC
Manipal Institute of Communication (MIC) alumnus, Sameer Hashmi, who currently works with BBC world news as a business reporter, was invited back to MIC – which is now known as School of Communication (SOC), to address the audience on the topic ‘Journalism in the era of Trump and Social Media’ as a part of its core communication fest, Article 19, on 9th February.
Sameer has been a BBC correspondent for four years now and had previously worked for Economic Times and Headlines Today. He also covers a lot of non-business stories. Over the last decade, he has covered some of the biggest news events in India including 26/11 Mumbai attacks, 2008 global recession, the Indian elections in 2009 and 2013, demonetisation 2016 and the cricket world cup of 2011 and 2016.
“Media has changed a lot over the past 50 years,” said Sameer. In the 1970s, the only available media to cover an event was the newspaper, and today, we have numerous options ranging from magazines to live blogs. According to Sameer, every year technology revolutionises the world and in turn, it revolutionises media. The media has transcended borders, mediums, class and status. At present, whoever has a mobile phone can now access and put out information to the world using various platforms available online.
Media and journalism are facing their biggest crisis today in terms of credibility, effectiveness and profitability. Objectivity is the essence of journalism, so once a journalist has his story, he has to verify it for the sake of integrity. Brexit had given a tight slap to the face of the media, said Sameer, when the media wrongly predicted that Britain would continue with the UK union. There was also a prediction that Hilary Clinton was going to win the presidency by 98 out of the top 100 newspapers in the US.
A poll was done last year across the world to find out how much faith people had in the institutions of the country. Media was the most mistrusted in 15 countries out of 50. In India, more than the politicians, people do not trust the media. Sameer said, “The problem is that journalists are not talking to people on the ground.” How many stories do we read about rural India and its farmer issues? The media can control what the people are talking about and thus they can control what’s trending. We need to go into the interiors and start talking to people to achieve more credible reports.
On social media, there are so many new platforms to put out stories which can be used objectively in entertaining and engaging ways to put out information. The challenge is that a lot of traditional media houses are still trying to figure out how to use these platforms effectively. Another worry is that if these platforms are used only to talk about a certain audience like those who live in the cities, what about the human interest stories that need to have their time in the media?
Other big challenges when it comes to social media are propaganda and paid news. A false story was put up that a pope had endorsed Trump to be president last year and had become viral. Instead, we can make the right news go viral. The picture of the boy on the beach went viral and that is when people took notice of the Syrian war. Digital media helps bridge the gap between corporates and journalists. You can now use your phone to tell a story in creative ways, even if you aren’t a journalist which can help reach out to the audience. Now we, as simpletons, can help contribute to the media.
– Shreya Mariam Job and Aishwarya Sunjay for MTTN