India: The Korean Cultural Wave In Nagaland

Renchano Humptsoe, IndiaUnheard, Nagaland. Screenshot from YouTube video by VideoVolunteers.

Renchano Humptsoe, IndiaUnheard, Nagaland. Screenshot from YouTube video by VideoVolunteers.

Nagaland is a state in Northeast India, bordering Burma. The population of Nagaland, almost two million people, is tribal and the majority is Christian. Some Nagas feel disconnected – “racially, historically, culturally, politically” – from India, and have been fighting to protect the “unique identity” of the Naga people from mainstream Indian influence. Nevertheless, a different culture has been making an impact in Nagaland in recent years – that of Korea.

The term “Korean Wave” refers to the popularity of Korean culture around the world, but particularly throughout Asia. It has become a noticeable phenomenon in other parts of Northeast India such as Manipur. At community media initiative IndiaUnheard, Renchano Humtsoe has produced a video report highlighting concerns about the growing influence of Korean culture in Nagaland. She writes:

Korean culture is flooding into Nagaland. New trade treaties between India and Korea facilitated the exchange of Korean goods and enabled them to enter Nagaland with greater ease. Additionally, Nagas have long felt neglected by the central Indian government. This is especially the case with Naga youth. Many believe this lack of identity with central India informs Nagas’ embrace of Korean culture. […] Naga youth have now started to adapt Korean culture. Korean television channels, programs, movies, and clothes are popular among Naga youth. Korean companies are looking into investing in Nagaland. The Nagaland State Government has even taken steps to embrace Korean culture: it hosts an annual Indian-Korean cultural festival. However, this wave of Korean culture threatens traditional Naga customs. […] Traditional Naga culture is unique. Nagaland is comprised of sixteen tribes. Each tribe uses a unique language and has its own rich cultural traditions of dance, song, festivals and other key features. Korean culture’s strong pull on young Nagas will make it more difficult to preserve Nagaland’s important tradition and identity.

Writing at GroundReport, Stella Paul, the Communications Director for Video Volunteers (the organisation which established IndiaUnheard) talks about Renchano's video:

The most-watched TV channel in the state is the Korean channel Arirang TV, the DVD and CD shops are bursting with Korean films, the hottest hair-dos offered by salons are the ones flaunted by popular Korean actors and actresses, shops are selling street fashion that is currently in vogue in Korea, cultural events in the state has special ‘Korean songs’ contests, sports events now have categories like ‘Korean wrestling’.

Otojit Kshetrimayum, Assistant Professor in Sociology at Sikkim University, in collaboration with Ningombam Victoria Chanu, writes an in-depth analysis of the nature of the diffusion of Korean popular culture through Korean satellite channels, music and movies in neighbouring Manipur state:

The introduction of cable television network has played a significant role in the dissemination of culture to other societies. [..] The Korean satellite channel Arirang is the harbinger of the Korean wave in Manipur. Its popularity began largely due to the ban on Hindi satellite channels, which used to be the favourite channels of the Manipuris. They started to look for an alternative channel, which could give them wholesome entertainment.

Otojit writes about the Hindi channel ban:

Hindi films and Hindi television channels, except national channel DDTV, which is under the state control, were banned by one of the underground revolutionary organizations of Manipur in the year 2000.

Another key factor is the cultural proximity theory, which suggests that media productions from culturally affiliated countries have greater reception than those from more culturally distanced countries. According to Otojit, North Indian tribes have many elements of culture in common with the Koreans.

At The Marmot's Hole, a blog about topics related to Korea, Robert Koehler has watched Renchano's report and writes:

Somehow, I don’t think [TV presenter] Lisa Kelley ever expected to show up on Youtube as the face of Korean cultural imperialism.

He adds:

Of course, when [the Naga] are ready to be truly Korean, they’ll ditch Arirang TV in favor of NCIS and CSI: Miami.

Commenting on the post, Pvrhye says:

Any time I see people talking about “maintaining” the culture of an area from the voluntary action of those within the culture, I look to me like outsiders like their quaint little villagers to play dress-up for them. If these kids don’t want to dress like their grandmother dressed, that’s pretty well the reality everywhere. If you want to maintain your culture, think about what really defines it and find a way to modernize that. The alternative is getting overwhelmed by people who do.

Another commenter, abcdefg, looks at why Korean culture is popular:

Korea is like the bibimpop of pop culture. One discerns a little bit of Japanese here, some American there; some bits of suburban stuff here, some 90s rap stuff there; some Korean seasoning here, some East Asian zeitgeist stuff there. Lots of various genetic muses compose Korean pop, and at this point, as an admixture, it seems to have gained its own identity; its elements aren’t unique but altogether it has its own sort of flavour.

The reason Kpop culture is catchy among other Asians? Because it’s basic. The social values Kpop espouses are materialistic, shallow, and sexual. When a product appeals to such basic things, it is fulfilling. One can also say that Kpop is popular because it is the most compatible with modern American culture and as such it is the most identifiable to those who have been encultured under America and its Hollywood.

So, is there a real reason for concern about Korean influence on Naga culture? Is such influence an inevitable part of “globalisation”? Or is this just the latest fad that will pass in time? What do you think?


  • Alec

    Many people will surely have adverse feelings towards the events in this story, citing it as another step towards cultural homogenization. I for one, don’t see this as a large concern, although it is an interesting phenomenon. Young people in this small community in Northeast India have taken a large interest in South Korean culture and TV. I think the fact that it’s only the youth who are taking a keen interest in this quells any need for immediate concern. Kids like things that are flashy, exciting and different. South Korean TV has provided them with this, and it’s become a bit of a fad albeit a large one.

    I don’t think it’s a concern because, for one, the world is changing and we would be foolish to halt the forces of globalization at this point. One side effect of globalization is the transmission of culture from one place to the next. But does this necessarily result in the disintegration or destruction of domestic culture? In the United States, there is a huge group of people, mostly between the ages of teens and 40 year olds, who are huge consumers of Japanese pop culture. However, they’re still Americans through and through. They haven’t adopted Japanese as their primary language or separated themselves from American society. They still identify with their home country and exemplify it’s culture in their own way. They simply enjoy sampling the entertainment and culture of Japan and other Asian countries. I’d bet the kids in Nagaland still identify themselves as being from there. They know where they came from, but they’re simply indulging in something that interests them and I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that.

    On the contrary, I think it’s a step forward for humanity to be able to enjoy and appreciate the entertainment and culture of other societies. The more we come to understand and enjoy what our fellow humans in other nations have created, the more the barriers of distrust and prejudice will break down, and we’ll appreciate different cultures for what they are. This doesn’t mean that cultural homogenization has to happen. I think that societies can retain their own culture while still being more open and appreciative of others. And that is certainly something that humanity can benefit from.

  • Venki

    Interesting! What would be even more interesting to know is, if this has translated into students from Nagaland and Manipur going to South Korea for higher education, business and tourism. I think official circles in India and Korea can use Manipuri and Naga youths as bridge between the two countries in education and business.

    • JZA

      the report did mentioned that korean companies are considering investing in the city. this means that soon you will see employees from these companies coming out of these town and aim for korean scholarships.

  • Jireh Wilfred

    Well I believe that I am a student and I believe that I am still learning. But from What I know so far is that it seems like a fad and a fad which I hope will not get out of hand and create tensions between the Naga people and India. It is very interesting that I came upon this article because in the past year (2009) our school had a speaker talking about the Nagaland people. As he was speaking i began to really enjoy the Nagaland culture. Now i know that this culture is heavily influenced by the Korean culture. In conclusion I pray that this fad will not create tension between India and Nagaland which will create another globalization problem. Keep me informed and upto date please. Thank you :)

  • Preetam Rai

    I have been watching this trend on youtube and other online spaces for a while. It is interesting and I think inevitable. The neighboring Myanmar and other parts of South East Asia also has a big Korean pop-culture influence. China also a big K-pop following. More than any cultural affinity, I would suggest that Korean TV brings aspirational fashion and themes that most South East Asian can identify with. It used to be Japan earlier on the 80s. The Korean wave found a good timing with support from cheap DVDs and internet forums. If Vietnam or Thailand was more affluent, it could have been them.

    There is needless worries from the producers of the video news clip. If anything such smart foreign influences helps us to refine and polish the presentation of our own culture. If you trace back the history of development of any culture, one will always find multiple influences. Just that nobody was around making videos around the time of Indianization of South East Asia.

  • mike dunn

    VERY interesting!!!!! I just got off Skype, talking w/ friends in Chongqing,and Behai,China.
    Last week, found a great article about Indians in Edison,NJ, and learned the term
    The world indeed gets smaller,and that’s good for all on the Planet<3 mike

  • sympathetic korean

    Nagas are nothing like Indians, they are a soverign people and they can chose what influence wants to come into their lives or not. They are free to choose that. Why should a “created” state and an entity after 1947 choose for a soverign people group ?

    Attempting to “Indianize” the Nagas is like attempting to teach a cat to become an owl. They are two different cultures, two different regions, people group. It’s a shame that such a place had to be forced into become “one” with a created entity with Hinduism and Indo-Aryan culture at it’s heart.

    Facts are facts. Nagas have more in common with Koreans or Chinese or other far East Asians with whom they share some common blood. Created boundaries do not define a people, shared history, values, identity and many other deeper aspects do.

    Let them enjoy some korean entertainment , after all 200,000 + have perished just to stay “Naga”, over the last 60 years.

    I am sure India’ wont mind , since they themselves don’t want to be under Turkish influence or islamized any more do they ? So spare the Nagas of the Indianization rubbish.

  • […] on the same subject in another article on : “Korean culture is flooding into Nagaland. New trade treaties between India and Korea […]

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