The Folk musical instruments of Nagaland

It is that traveling exposes one to a multitude of cultures and people. The diverse geography of India is home to some of the most unheard traditions and untold folklores. During my 10 day stint of backpacking in Nagaland, I was introduced to so many of it all, as this little Indian state, tucked in the far North-east is home to more than 17 tribal sects and sub-tribes; each having their own culture, language, traditions and cuisine. Here, is a small list of indigenous musical instruments used in the folk culture of the Nagas.

  • Mrabung: Mrabung is an indigenous musical instrument of the Zeliang Nagas. It is a single stringed instrument that is crafted with a hollow/ cured bottle gourd and a fretless wooden neck of about 12 inches long. It is played with hair string bow (Usually a cluster of horse tail tightly tied together to two ends of a thin wooden stick). This bow is used to strike the chords (like a violin) with one hand and the string along the neck is pressed down with the other hand at appropriate places to get the required tune and legato of the song. It is played during merry making in social gatherings and festivals where men and women congregate. I was narrated with a popular folklore of the Nagas wherein, a singer called Arum played the Mrabung. His music captivated the farmers so much that everyone working on the field left their work undone and sat around Arum listening to his songs. Arum had to be barred from playing any songs further just so the people went back to work on their farms. Click below to see an artisan playing the Mrabung.

  • Atutu: The Atutu is a handcrafted bamboo trumpet used by the Pochury tribes of Meluri. A particular variety of bamboo is used in making the varied components that are fitted together to make this crafted trumpet. It is played to mark special occasions. For example, blowing of this trumpet towards the end of February means to herald and announce the advent of the Nazhu festival. Also, the male members of the tribe play it in their morungs in the evenings throughout the festival. Apart from this, the trumpet sound is used to ward off birds and animals from the rice fields and prevent from crop damage. In earlier days, trumpeting was a way to alert the collective habitat or a village of a possible enemy attack or as a signal of declaration of a war.
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The Atutu: The bamboo trumpet
  • Dholak: This common musical instrument has its own version and avatar in every region of India. Be it weddings or festivals, it is the most common and almost an essential part of any merry making in Indian celebrations. Similarly, each tribe in Nagaland has its own version of the dholaks or the Indian hand drums. Made with an outer casing of wood, laced tightly with cotton strings and the drumming surfaces made with the locally available materials, more often animal hide. Here are samples of the dholaks used by the Garos (Long slender shaped, narrowing at the ends), the Mech Kacharis (fatter and shorter than the Garos) and the Aao tribes (Shorter and fatter than the previous two types and Uniform sized throughout its length) of Nagaland. (Click the below link to watch the ceremonial dances of the Naga tribes with their dholaks)

2 thoughts on “The Folk musical instruments of Nagaland”

  1. a similar instrument called Nrübu’ is also used by the Agami tribe of khonoma village( the Mrabung ,concept of the instrument may have been originated from the Angami area. One can fine some if the old nrübu instruments at Khonoma village. Similar instrument is also used by the Ao tribe and the Eastern part of Nagaland, the konyak tribe as well.
    Now a more refined ,and improvised nrübu , Mrabung, kongki and lahhe, has been developed as Gei-ii.
    It’s incomplete about the mention of instrument and wrong information . Kindly do your research well before uploading.. It is missing leading.

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    1. Thank you very much Atso… I will make note of this valuable information… I missed to know about this during my visit to Khonoma. I will also take note to get more info during my visit to Konyak villages… thank u very much!

      Actually I got this limited information from an information poster put up in the dedicated ‘Mrabung making’ stall at the handicraft arena during my visit to hornbill festival’2019. I am sorry, my intention was not to mislead, but to share the rich folk culture of tribal music and the similarities of these instruments with those used in mainstream music.

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