Performing the Garo Nation?

Erik de Maaker

Over the past decades Garo Wangala dance performances have increasingly gained public prominence. Performances have been staged at prime national events, such as the 2010 opening of the Commonwealth Games, or the 2008 Republic Day parade. In the Northeastern state of Meghalaya, home to the majority of the Garo, Wangala dancing is more or less routinely staged as a part of state level celebrations. In addition, it also plays an increasingly important role in the statements made by political groups, which call for greater assertion of the Garo community. Wangala dancing has come to serve as an iconic representation of that community, but one that can apparently cater to distinct and in some respects contradictory agendas. Wangala used to be (and still is) the most important post-harvest festival of a major section of the Garo, although it seems likely that it has never been of great significance among other sections of the Garo. How did it become iconic for the Garo community as a whole? How does the public visibility that it has gained over the last couple of decades connect to the religious performances that it is inspired on? And how do understandings of Wangala dancing adopted into distinct regional and national discourses contribute to the imagination of a Garo nation?