Having been part of an innovative project to produce the first collection of animated folk stories from  tribal communities in Central India called “The Tallest Story Competition” I felt that the initiative that had been started by West Highland Animation should be continued.

A field research trip brought me to the  North East region of India.  Already captivated by some unusual Naga folk stories located in a dusty book or two buried deep and forgotten in a library in London, and further enthused by some haunting artefacts, again under lock and key  in museum archives, I wanted to know if any of still exists today.

The research trip also uncovered a deep felt concern from some of the Nagas I met towards sustaining some of their pre-Christian traditions where it was clear that the young people are losing touch with their cultural heritage.   For example,  the meanings behind the distinct symbols of their art were frequently forgotten.

The Adivasi Arts Trust was invited to collaborate  a local organisation called Tribal Weave, to hold a three week long animation workshop in Nagaland.   In due time the State Government was able to support the project as part of their Capacity Building agenda, and in January 2009 I traveled to Dimapur by train with a young Naga animator, Oyimbong Imchen.  Oyimbong had come to Delhi several years ago to pursue his interest in animation.  Having completed a software course at a prominent institute, he then decided to stay on in the capital as there were no obvious opportunities to continue with animation in Nagaland.

In Nagaland the light comes early, and by 5.00 am people are starting the day.  The venue for the Animation Workshop in Nagaland was well chosen. The Aries Sound and Music Foundation, owned by Merang Jamir, is located down a small lane in the centre of Dimapur.   We needed  sound recording facilities as we planned to record dialogues for characters for a short animated folktale from Nagaland. I soon found that singing and playing the guitar is popular here and it made me reflect on how Christianity has  influenced the musical taste.  With few indigenous instruments, the guitar is popular and as dedicated fans of the Beatles, Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones many Nagas  can offer a good rendition of songs that we almost know the words for.

On the first day of the workshop Sentila Yanger welcomed the group of young participants who came from several tribes.  There were a few Ao Nagas, several Lothas, a couple of Angamis and one small Konyak boy.    Some of them were still students, while others didn’t know what to do, and although they all enjoyed watching cartoons, none had any experience of the animation medium.  All participants had been asked to bring a folk tale from their own community, but when it came to the storytelling session they admitted that they were out of touch with their own stories.  Sentila encouraged the group to research stories from elders at home.  I explained that I had already chosen a Naga story for a five minute animation film, and I handed out copies of the script I had written to the participants.

The first stage of adapting a story to the audio visual medium is to create a script in which words are chosen to build a visual plan of the scenes and shots and characters are developed and given dialogues.   None of the participants had  heard of the Angami story of three brothers, Man, Tiger and Spirit.  The story tells that the three had such different natures that they were unable to live together in harmony, and so a competition was devised to decided who would live in the village and who would have to settle for  life in the jungle.  One participant, Russell Humtsoe from the Lotha tribe related a belief among Nagas that certain unusual individuals  share a common spirit with the tiger.

An animation film first needs to have a good story, and folk stories that have stood the test of time can provide a fine resource for the storytelling using animation technology.   Stories that have been passed on orally are adapted by the storyteller.  Storytelling is also an attractive way of passing on knowledge, and I have been told that most tribal stories contain a message.  However, the  messages are frequently forgotten and the stories are losing their significance.