Pakke Paga Festival

Hornbills are an important cultural symbol for many tribes in the north-east, yet they are threatened by hunting and habitat loss. Wild hornbill populations have drastically declined across most of north-east India. Among all the north-eastern states, the five species of hornbills are more abundant in Arunachal Pradesh due to higher forest cover and lower human population pressures. Several tribes across the state have folklore/myths attached to these birds, while hunting occurs for some body parts among particular tribes.

Conservation efforts in and around Pakke Tiger Reserve

As early as 2003, the Nyishis in Seijosa realized that hornbills were fast vanishing from Arunachal Pradesh. The forests of Pakke Tiger Reserve and the adjoining hills were one of the few places left in Arunachal Pradesh where hornbills could be seen easily, yet habitat loss was occurring and hunting was prevalent. The first step they took was banning hornbill hunting. From 2003 onwards, the local Forest Department and Wildlife Trust of India worked with the local community to distribute artificial beaks and gradually these have replaced the original ones. After 2006, Mr. Tana Tapi took over as the park manager and took steps to win the support of the local community for wildlife conservation. These included different eco-development initiatives and employing more than 140 youth from the area in the Special Tiger Protection Force. The Ghora Aabhe Society, a society of village headmen from the different villages in the area was formed in 2006. This association of village headmen became partners in wildlife conservation often conducting awareness campaigns, encouraging the local people to surrender their guns among other activities.

In 2011, the Hornbill Nest Adoption Program was initiated through a partnership between the Nature Conservation Foundation, Ghora-Aabhe Society and the Arunachal Pradesh Forest Department to protect hornbill nests outside Pakke Tiger Reserve from logging, hunting and fires. Local villagers are employed as Nest Protectors and are supported by urban citizens from all over the country. In the last six years, more than 35 hornbill nests have been protected and more than 95 chicks have successfully fledged from these protected nests. Arguably, this is the only place in Arunachal Pradesh where hornbills can also be seen roosting in large flocks and using large trees in different villages. Although logging and occasional hunting does occur in the Reserved Forests adjoining Pakke Tiger Reserve, there is hope and constant effort to minimize these threats.

The conservation efforts of the management of Pakke Tiger Reserve (Arunachal Pradesh Forest Department), the Ghora-Aabhe Society and the Nyishi community around Pakke Tiger Reserve in East Kameng district has resulted in Pakke becoming known as a haven for hornbills. Pakke Tiger Reserve and the adjoining forests also harbor high densities of tigers, elephants and other important wildlife.

The Pakke Paga Festival

The idea of a Pakke-Hornbill Festival was first proposed in 2014. It was named the Pakke Paga Festival (Paga means hornbill in the Nyishi language). The first one was held in Seijosa on 16-18 January, 2015.

The Pakke Paga Festival was conceived as a festival that would celebrate the role of the Nyishi people in conserving hornbills and other wildlife around Pakke. There are multiple festivals happening nowadays in Arunachal Pradesh in the winter months. The Pakke Paga Festival is meant to be unique in that it is meant focus on nature and wildlife conservation with local people.

Such festivals help to create awareness about the state, its people, cultural and wildlife heritage and helps promote tourism. The best hope for hornbill conservation is in Arunachal Pradesh. There have been conservation initiatives by the Nyishi community to ban hunting of hornbills/protect nests and to use artificial hornbill beaks. Therefore, it is fitting that an eco-cultural festival that celebrates hornbills along with the Nyishi people, is held in Seijosa (Pakke Tiger Reserve), the epicenter of conservation efforts.

The objective behind this festival is to 1) popularize the role played by the local Nyishi in conserving hornbills in Pakke and surrounding areas amongst other villages and communities across the state, 2) focus on the importance of conservation of hornbills and wildlife in Arunachal Pradesh and 3) the need to reduce hunting of these magnificent birds 3) create interest and awareness among urban Indians and external visitors about the cultural and wildlife heritage of Arunachal Pradesh, especially of Pakke Tiger Reserve.

We hope that through this festival there is not only increased pride and support for the conservation efforts in and around Pakke TR, but it will also encourage other communities across North-east India to participate in conservation efforts. We hope that in the near future this hornbill festival will become popular and attract visitors from across India and the world which will benefit the local community and the state.

The Pakke Paga Festival in 2015 and 2017 - A hornbill festival of a different kind in north-east India

The first edition of the festival was held on January 16-18 2015. In 2016, the festival could not be conducted.

In 2017, the second edition of the festival was organized between 16-18 January at a venue on the banks of the Pakke river bordering the Pakke Tiger Reserve. There were activities with local school children for arousing their interest in nature, jeep and elephant safaris for the visitors and local people to visit the Pakke Tiger Reserve. The Pakke Tiger Reserve management and various NGOs who work in and around the Pakke Tiger Reserve also shared details of their work through displays in stalls, presentations and films. There were many local food stalls and this year, a special effort was made to minimize the use of plastic by encouraging the local stalls to serve food and beverages on traditional leaves and in bamboo mugs.

Image Credit: Aparajita Datta

More than 100 children from two local schools were taken to NCF’s rainforest nursery in Seijosa where they spent time observing, touching and sketching saplings of different tree species found in the area and then choosing a tree friend which was planted in the school grounds over two days. The children even gave their own names to their plant friends and continue to water them, record their growth and take care of them. Around 100 children also participated in nature-related activities conducted on the festival ground.

Image Credit: Aparajita Datta

Image Credit: Aparajita Datta

Visitors could watch and learn about the wildlife of Pakke through the walks, jeep rides organized by the Forest Department and local guides. There were also options for bird and butterfly watching, however, there were very few people who signed up for these. This was mainly because there were only a handful of visitors from outside as the festival was announced very late. Apart from this, more conventional events that are part of most festivals like traditional and modern dances/songs, traditional Nyishi sports and local cuisine gave a flavour of the local culture to the visitors.

We are hoping that this will be a one of its kind, annual festival focusing on the local wildlife, conservation initiatives and nature-based activities for children and adults, while celebrating the local culture and cuisine. We hope that this festival will attract visitors giving wider recognition to the place and the people for the wildlife conservation efforts and providing economic opportunities to the local people through tourism and allied opportunities.

Author: Dr. Aparajita Datta, Nature Conservation Foundation

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