From the shooting
Hunting, to this day, is practiced in Fakim, a remote village in Nagaland. It’s not just a sport, done for reveling in one’s own feats of slaughter or patting oneself on the back for unthinkable bravery. It dates back to ancient times with its roots lyeing in tradition and culture. It is heritage which has been passed down through generations. Let alone the unavoidable fact that it’s a significant part of the village’s culture, where in ancient times hunting kills were traded off with shawls and clothes for the hunters’ families, it till date forms the sole source of livelihood for some. Point and shoot by Harsimran Kaur Anand also reveal that some of the birds found in Fakim possess medicinal properties strong enough to cure dysentery, which makes them ideal hunting prey. Through the documentation of the relationship the Yimchungrü tribe of Nagaland holds with the animals and birds found in their village forests, the documentary explores a potent question: Can hunting and Conservation coexist?
Harsimran shares her experience on being let into the predominant hunting culture of one the remotest villages in India and on shedding her conceptions about right and wrong.
Harsimran Kaur Anand
How did you stumble upon the ongoing hunting culture in the village of Fakim? Why did you choose this particular topic to cover?
It was a collaboration between Srishti Films and North East Network when I visited the Greenhub Centre in Tezpur, Assam. They had started a fellowship program involving the local youth from the various Northeastern States to conserve biodiversity. Two of the fellows involved in this program were from a village called Fakim, one of the last villages on the Indo-Myanmar border. Having googled this place, I found it did not exist on Google Maps neither had it been documented before. The remoteness of the place and the fact that there were almost no traces of its existence in the online world, overwhelmed me with intrigue. As I subsequently learned that people still hunt for a living in Fakim, even in the 21st century, I was even more fascinating. This fascination was the starting point for me and the next thing I know, I found myself in Fakim.
Stills from the documentary
Was it difficult for you to watch first-hand accounts of animals being killed?
It was a mixed bag of emotions. One of my first encounters with hunting in Fakim was quite unusual. I had been observing young boys in the village walk on the road along the forest with catapults in their hands. Whenever they noticed me, they would disappear into the forest. This went on for 2-3 days till two boys allowed me to follow them into the forest. What I saw then was shocking! One of the boys put a hand in his pocket, pulled out a small stone, put it on his catapult and aimed for the treetop. I wasn’t certain when he took his first hit, but after the third, he took the shot and ran closer to the tree and came back with a grin on his face, a gleam in his eye, and in his hand, a small, delicate bird on the verge of dying. I saw the spot of blood on its fragile body and became extremely uncomfortable. On another occasion when a hunter gave me a dead bird, my hand started shaking for I couldn’t drop it, nor could I hold it any longer. Back at home I briefly used to work with an NGO, rescuing and saving birds during the kite festival. And here I was, looking at birds being shot at and killed. These encounters left me with a major ethical dilemma. Moreover, it only got worse for me when I first witnessed the hunt of a ‘Mithun’, also commonly known as Gayal. Never in my life had I seen something as gruesome. The smell made me sick! Arms and legs of people cutting the Mithun were covered in blood. What I noticed, however, was this act of killing was not depressing for the locals, but rather an event to celebrate in anticipation of a family get together.
Describe your journey making this film
The most important part of this journey was that my story or my film was constantly evolving. If I thought, this is it! I have found my film! The next day would unravel a complete change of events that would make it inept to follow the same storyline. Apart from this, one of the challenges was the limitation of resources. Since Fakim is so disconnected from the mainland, we wouldn’t get electricity in the house for hours or days. Upon interacting with the locals I found that there was a period where they didn’t have electricity for months at a stretch. This meant that we could not charge our camera batteries when we wanted to. There were times when we couldn’t help but sit and wait for 2 days straight, hoping to get an uncut supply of electricity for an hour or so. Therefore, whatever storyline I decided to pursue had to be very well thought of since there was limited battery life on the camera.
Stills from 'Point and Shoot'
What draws you to documentaries as a medium?
I believe documentaries as a medium are still comparatively unadulterated. They are supposed to communicate someone’s reality. There is an innate sense of freedom and responsibility associated with it. This is what draws me to documentary films. Also, one does not need to have a million-dollar budget to make a film.
Do you feel hunting as a tradition can be pursued alongside the conservation of wildlife? Or are they inherently mutually exclusive?
If traditional hunting and conservation were mutually exclusive, forests of Nagaland would not be an ecological hotspot. Until having lived in Fakim, I have always associated a highly negative context with the term hunting, mainly due to popular media. I associated hunting with killing for ivory, illegal trade of tiger and leopard skin, and so on. Here in Fakim, people went hunting so they could exchange meat and provide wool to their families for clothing. Hunting was not only a matter of pride or a source of exploiting money from the rich, rather they depended on these creatures more integrally for medicinal purposes. Fakim interestingly has a rich bank of traditional knowledge. They have their own ways of conservation. For instance, they do not hunt birds during breeding season. When I asked an elder in the village how does he know when the birds are breeding; he said, when the chicken in our homes starts laying eggs, we know the birds in the wild are breeding. As a result, the people of Fakim do not hunt birds during this period of two months and allow them to populate. Having said this, hunting practices have drastically changed over the years. From using bow and arrows in the past to having airguns and shotguns in the present day, the means of hunting has become much easier. This may result in disturbing the balance and the state of equilibrium between hunting and conserving. Nevertheless, I do believe that with careful supervision and well-monitored rules, it is possible to carry on the tradition of hunting with conservation.
Stills from the documentary
What was your biggest learning from filming ‘Point and Shoot’?
My biggest learning from this project was adapting to a different pace of life in Fakim. It was quite a challenge in the beginning but gradually I grew into the Fakim life. I never realized how smoothly this transition happened. To talk to a person for a brief minute I had to often wait for 2-3 days since phones didn’t work there. There were only a few people in the village that spoke bits of Hindi or English as a language and that was a big barrier. I never thought I could survive for 40 days communicating with someone in sign language and forming a really warm bond. This was another big learning. I learned to connect with people by trying to understand and perceive things from their point of view. Being an animal and nature lover, being in the mountains and forests was a blessing, but watching these creatures being killed in front of me was horrifying. My biggest learning during the course of this project was to break away from the definition of right and wrong and to immerse myself in the subject and try to understand the complexity of the grey area. This is what I have tried to communicate through my film.
Text Supriya Jain
From the shooting of 'Point and Shoot'