The first anthology of Lotha Naga folktales in English, entitled A Girl Swallowed by a Tree: Lotha Naga Tales Retold was released on 29 April, 2017 at the Indian International Centre, New Delhi. This collection is translated and compiled by Nzanmongi Jasmine Patton, an Assistant Professor at the Department of English at Gargi College in the University of Delhi. Adivaani, a publishing house based in Kolkata, is the publisher. Easterine Kire, renowned author of Bitter Wormwood, A Terrible Matriarchy, When the River Sleeps, has written the Foreword. There are thirty stories in this collection, dealing with diverse themes.
The current president of the Naga Scholars’ Association, Zuchamo Yanthan, hosted the event. Simi Malhotra, the Director of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research at Jamia Millia Islamia, launched the book. She spoke on the importance of anthologies, especially from those Indian languages we do not get to read enough of in translation. “Anthologies are essential to counter cultural entropy,” she said. She also spoke about the importance of recording oral literature and ensuring that we do not lose these texts.
The editor of the anthology, Nzanmongi described the book as a “personal imperative”. She spoke of the questions she faces regarding her identity or identities, and the balance she has to achieve between different identities depending on whether she is in Nagaland or mainland India. There is, she admitted, tension between her actual identity and the perceived identity ascribed to her outside her state.
Speaking of the anthology, Nzanmongi says it goes beyond story-telling to insights on the cultural practices of the Lotha tribe. This is not only for the general Indian reader, but also a legacy for generations to come among the Lothas.
Nzanmongi spoke to the Indian Cultural Forum on the problematic tendency to categorise the diverse culture of an entire region as “Northeastern”. The only way to counter this, she suggests, is to ensure that the many stories and cultures of the different tribes and entities in the region make their way to the mainstream. Though this will take time, she believes that it is the most effective way to address the ignorance about the “Northeast” in mainstream Indian society.
Nzanmongi was emphatic about the integrity necessary for the enterprise of recording traditional forms of story-telling and folklore. This is one of the reasons she prefers to work on her project with an upcoming publishing house that will allow her to remain faithful to the intention of her work.
Read an extract from A Girl Swallowed by a Tree: Lotha Naga Tales Retold here.