Long Shah is disturbed by the advent of the ‘money for photo’ phenomenon that has struck his culture in recent times. He believes the Konyak culture and any culture, for that matter, must not have a price tag. Here is what he urges ‘tourism’ to understand.from his heart.
“I believe the problem lies in the mentality of rich tourists. They don’t think much as to what would be the long term consequence of their actions.”, said Long Shah with a subtle facial expression of shame and embarrassment. Every family in Longwa charges travelers money for their photographs to be taken. Being the most influential person in the district of Mon, Nagaland, Long Shah plans to hold a meeting calling all important persons in the district to urge them not to put a price on their own culture and tradition, and to also spread a message to everyone coming to this village in future not to offer money for a picture.
We have had an experience in photographing the headhunters of Longwa. Even the interpreter who is from the same village had always been requesting us to pay a certain amount of money for every photograph that we take. His reason is the poverty factor whereas Long Shah’s philosophy is so unique that even his family doesn’t seem to approve it. The culture and tradition of the Konyaks had begun sinking into the reign of missionaries throughout the state of Nagaland. These missionaries had provided the poor villagers with clothes, food and education to their children for years which had resulted in almost the whole of the state converting to Christianity over the years. With the adoption of Christianity, a lot of traditions which is believed to be violent in nature were put to an end. Headhunting was one of them.
“Headhunting is the identity of a Konyak. The attire, the lifestyle, the history: everything matters.” Long Shah says this in relation to the price that had been put on their tradition which he strongly opposes. It cannot be disagreed that tourism has triggered this mentality of monetary compensation for a single frame of photograph. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the village of Longwa is significantly poor along with the whole district of Mon, the poorest district in Nagaland. Long Shah says, despite being poor, what difference does it make? Tourism had never really made any difference in the lifestyle of this village which is quite evident as he is the only person involved in this business in the whole village. So paying a 100 for a picture is never going to make a difference.
The damage is permanent though. Long Shah had asked his family members to pose for us in their traditional Konyak attire and had also directed them not to ask for money from us in his absence. That order, although violated numerous times, merely uttering his name had been enough to stop conversations. “Putting a price tag on your culture is the worst thing that can happen to it. When you take money to show how beautiful your culture is, that very acceptance of money negates your claim that it is beautiful. It makes it another expensive material. And for the ones on the other side, you don’t really seek that picture with money because it never had your involvement with the people or sharing a moment of your life with them. So you just take a picture and learn nothing about it. That is a wrong philosophy to travel with. We need to change. And so do they.”