NAGA ANCESTRAL VOICES: An Exhibition of Hutton Cylinder Recordings of Naga Songs | MorungExpress


‘The Prodigal Son’ painting by Kohima-based multimedia artist Mhao Aaron Odyuo displayed at the ‘Naga Ancestral Voices’ exhibition held at the Highland Institute, Kohima. Two of his works are part of the exhibition, namely “Bullroarer sculpture” and “The Prodigal Son painting”. (Photo Morung)

News Morung Express
Kohima | April 23

“How do the Nagas react to the recordings that JH Hutton made over a hundred years ago? Can they tell us something about the songs and their meaning? Or has the music lost its relevance for today’s performers and listeners? »

With these questions in mind, ethnomusicologist Dr Christian Poske brought digital copies of the recordings to Nagaland in February this year.

Speaking on the ‘Recirculation of JH Hutton Cylinder Recordings in Nagaland’ at the opening of the ‘Naga Ancestral Voices’ exhibition at the Highland Institute, Kohima, Dr Christian Poske, from SOAS University London, noted that the recordings are part of the intangible cultural heritage of Nagaland and that “communities have been disconnected from the recordings for over a century”.

Dr. Poske pointed out that “although the digital recordings have been available online on the Pitt Rivers Museum website since 2012, few people know of the recordings in Nagaland”.

The recordings, he pointed out, “are so far not accessible in archives in India or more specifically in Nagaland where they are of interest to Naga communities and scholars.” He said most of Hutton’s cylinder recordings lacked essential information such as the date and place of recording. “Often he would only write the title or performance context of a song on the cylinder inlays and sometimes he would notate the lyrics of the song or the first names of the performers,” he added. He further stated that “members of the community can provide additional information about the content and context of the recordings.”

John Henry Hutton (1885-1968) was a British administrator and anthropologist who worked for the Indian civil service in the Naga Hills district of Assam province, which included the Nagaland territory of present-day India. Hutton is said to have made 14-cylinder recordings of Angami, Sümi, Chang, Sangtam and Lotha songs with a phonograph, possibly the earliest audio documentation of traditional Naga music.

Although he sent transcriptions of songs and notes with the cylinders to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, little is known of the circumstances of the recordings. The first two cylinders broke during transport in 1915, but another twelve reached the Museum intact in 1919. Besides the cylinders, the Museum also received many Naga artifacts, objects and field photographs from him as documentation of Naga culture. Naga.

The current exhibit also points out that Hutton’s field notes and publications indicate that his dobashis (performers) were involved in some of his recordings: Vikhepu Ayemi (d. 1919), village chief of Sürümi and four other performers by Sümi sing together on cylinder no. 14 (track 12).

In Khonoma, Krusalie Sophi, a farmer, recognized the song “Losorüü” that Hutton had recorded on cylinder 3 (track 1) and sang a different version still known in the village. Heshevi Awomi, Vikhepu Ayemi’s niece, and her great-nephew Qheniho Jakhalu were amazed to hear their ancestor’s voice on cylinder 14 (track 12) in Sürümi (Zunheboto).

During interviews conducted by Dr Christian Poske and Lanuakum Aier of the Highland Institute for the project, Heshevi had described how Hutton had once seen Vikhepu on a building above him in one of his dreams because he was impressed with his personality. Hutton and Vikhepu are also said to have planted a tree to commemorate their friendship before Vikhepu died of the Spanish flu in 1919. The tree is said to still be standing in the village today.

The exhibition opening also included an interview with Mhao Aaron Odyuo, a Kohima-based multimedia artist whose work is heavily influenced by Naga craft traditions. He trains aspiring artists at the Art Village in Kohima, and two of his works are also part of the exhibition, namely “Bullroarer sculpture” and “The Prodigal Son painting”.

Another highlight of the event was a special performance by folk singer and musician and Padma Shri Guru Rewben Mashangva.

The first exhibition of its kind featuring historic Nagaland sound recordings made between 1916 and 2010 and contemporary visual art by The Art Village, Kohima, will open until May 7, 2022 and visitors will be able to hear a range of recordings captivating and also enjoy exciting complementary contemporary visual works by Mhao Aaron, The Art Village, Kohima, and multimedia artist Temsuyanger Longkumer.


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