The Pakke Page Hornbill Festival is the state festival of Arunachal Pradesh, a region in the Northeast of India. The festival is held every year in support of wildlife and nature conservation, focused specifically towards hornbill conservation and takes place over three days. During this time local tribes and communities set up stalls selling traditional food, dresses and hand carved ornaments. In addition to this, activities are held throughout the day and traditional dances and performances take place on the main stage.
Over three days I spent time at Balipara Foundation’s stall, where we were selling a variety of Eastern Himalayan products, from Organic tea, to books on the wildlife of India, naturally dyed clothes, hats and bags and handicraft products of coconut and bamboo. At the same time a variety of workshops also took place and Sam aided by me, ran a workshop creating and decorating planters that we had made from old pieces of cloth dipped in Cement and sand. Originally there were 12 students who had signed up for the workshop, however once it commenced a much larger group, of around 50 people crowded around to learn the craft. A workshop on organic farming was also conducted by Mohan Borah, a farmer turned conservationist, where 20 participants participated. Balipara Foundation also monitored the waste management system of the festival venue and ensured that no plastics were thrown on the field.
On both the first and the last day of the festival, there were a number of esteemed guests that were flown in by helicopter, including Pema Khandu the Chief Minister and Chowna Mein, the Deputy Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh. During the arrival of the guests, on the first day, I experienced my first taste of traditional dance, as a large group of girls from all ages had come to represent their tribes and dance alongside the guests, as they made their way from the helipad to the stage.
This was not the only performance that gave me an insight into the culture of Arunachal Pradesh, as dances took place all throughout the day and night in the form of folk dances, harvest celebration dances and many more. The culture of the area was also expressed through the food, a variety of delicious cuisine that we feasted on each day. The most difficult part for me was sitting cross legged for such long stints at a time.
The Pakke Paga Hornbill Festival certainly had some amazing and interesting moments, however there were some areas of the festival that I believe were too focused on and others that did not receive the limelight that they deserved. I would say that a large enough part of the festival was not focused around the topic of conservation and people’s attention was more drawn to the prestigious guests, along with the Miss Pakke Paga Beauty Contest that also took place. It still strikes me as a peculiar event to be held at a conservation festival.
Overall the Pakke Paga festival was a great deal of fun and despite the small number of discrepancies I would say that the festival was a success. It brought people from across the Northeast, especially from Arunachal and Assam to celebrate wildlife conservation. It gave people the opportunity to experience the culture through dance, music and food creating a warm and joyful atmosphere filled with education.
By Joseph Andrew Derry