In abundance

Zavame

In abundance
A rocky, bumpy hour-long ride to the village through Pfutsero town and some very scenic countryside brings us to Zavame in the Razeba range of the Chakhesang-Pumai tribes. We are greeted there by Jona and Sukho, who surprise us with their fluency in English.

Jona has done his MCA from Guwahati and works with UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) in Kohima, in the area of primary health. Sukho is an Arts graduate currently living in the village with his father. They are both aspiring youngsters, polished and sophisticated, looking un-Naga and raring to change their environs.

Zavame is predominantly a village growing organic vegetables, and the main crop is cabbage.

We pass by horn homes (whose owners have earned their prestige by hosting the villagers for ‘feasts of merit’), a pagan horn house with wooden roof tiles, human heads carved into the imposing facade of the house above the common Naga symbols of mithun and pig. These are the non-conformist Nagas who haven’t converted to Christianity and continue to practise animism.

There are cabbages everywhere of the most alluring green, shining with health and vigour — large, juicy and enticing — as far as the eyes can see. We drive down to Sukho’s cousin’s cabbage farm and learn about the indigenous farming methods. Intercropping, burning stumps to create charcoal manure, interspersing with alder trees for nitrogen fixation in the soil, and the purely organic method of farming. We roam around the cabbage farm on the hillside, picking our way through the abundant cabbage crop, the first planting of the season and ripe for picking. Every second or third year, other vegetables like potatoes, maize, corn are grown and harvested.

Mulching and carbon sequestration are used to rejuvenate the earth, the goal being the removal of agricultural carbon by using the crop and its association with the carbon cycle to permanently sequester carbon within the soil. And this is done by returning the biomass to the soil, thus effectively enriching it.


Who eats the cabbages?

Zavame sends its cabbages down to Dimapur and Shillong, where most of them are consumed. Due to lack of storage facilities, the farmers of Zavame sell their produce for as low as Rs 2/3 a kilogram.
Originally, in a headhunting village, the old homes used to carry the wooden replicas of heads on the doors commemorating that (before which the actual skulls from headhunting expeditions used to be displayed. It was a matter of pride.) Christianity came and put an end to all that, and now they have turned to agriculture and farming. The youth attend schools (primary and secondary education) and colleges, though the school dropout rates are still high.

Zavame is in the Phek district of Nagaland and is home to the Chakhesang and Pochury tribes. Chakhesang itself is a blend of three tribes, the Chokri, the Keza and the Sangtam.

The Tsukhenye is the festival of the Chakhesang that takes place in the first week of May and lasts for four days. The first morning begins with the village priest offering a sacrifice of the first rooster that crowed that morning! All the male folks come to the designated well and purify themselves by bathing.

We set out early up the mountain trail, covered almost entirely by a soft blanket of mist. Precipitation is high and rain is imminent. As we go higher up, the trail gets narrower and mistier, and the vegetation thicker. We leave Phutsero behind, gain altitude rapidly and come face to face with the underground Naga camp of the NSCN-IM (Isaac Muivah). Forgetting to breathe, we pass through their gates with the Naga freedom fighters waving us in! This welcome is altogether novel and the first of its kind for us! Our first brush with the storied, much-talked-about parallel mafia/army.

Our fear (almost a sneaky desire) of their confiscating our cameras and taking us hostage at gun point dies a quick death as one of Jona’s friends (who is with the faction) asks Jona to bring us over for tea with them. Well, life’s ironies.

They do have a few questions to ask in the rapid Naga Chakhesang dialect, and are put at ease by our friends.

In an unspoken gentlemen’s agreement, we refrain from taking pictures of their camp and their movements. The Indian army has a ceasefire agreement with them, and have apparently allocated the space to them. At the far end, I see the NSCN-IM’s and Indian flags fluttering in the breeze.

We hike a bit more, to the Kapamadzu peak, to the highest point of the tabletop from where a beautiful sunlit view of the Zavame village, set amidst paddy fields and rolling hillsides, presents itself. Ideally, Mount Saramati, one of the ‘ultra-prominent’ peaks (that is an official category), with a height of 3,826 m (12,552 ft) should be visible from here, but today, as we stand atop the Kapamadzu enveloped in a dizzying blanket of clouds, no other desire crosses our minds.

We picnic on juice and chips and spend an hour or two of banter and camaraderie with the boys. As we get ready to walk back, the rains come sweeping from the hills opposite, as if on cue. We go down the trail, chased by the rains, picking the yellow and white wild turmeric blossoms growing abundantly on the hillsides. We take leave of the Isaac-Muivah guys (that’s right) and work our way down. The day has been more than rewarding.


Stunned by silos

Our next stop is the wealthiest family of Zavame! Has it gilt chandeliers, plush sofas and concealed lighting? No. But does it have a wealth of cattle and extensive lands merging with the horizon? None whatsoever. It’s like any other dark, ramshackle, barebone home that we have seen across our meanderings this far in Nagaland. Only larger.

And what it has by way of riches is 46 granaries — row upon row of huge wicker silos full of paddy, each one about 7-8 ft tall and approximately 5 ft in diameter. We climb up a ladder and check. Yes, each is brimful. The matriarch sits in the middle of the dismal room next to the hearth that has the ashes of the last meal cooked. There is a query-and-answer session that goes on between her and the boys.

She is over 90 years old (exact age is mostly never known as these rustic people neither keep record nor think it important) and has 17 children, 30 grandchildren and more than 20 great grandchildren.
Talk of abundance!

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