Politics Reviews

‘Walking the Roadless Road’ and ‘Kuknalim – Naga Armed Resistance’ reviews: Nagaland’s quest for peace

What is the exact number of tribes who may be described as Naga? Where do they hail from? Where do they live? As the Naga peace process reaches its endgame, questions swirl around tribal identity, extant geography and troubled history. Two recent books have tried to piece together the complex story of Nagaland and its tribes — Easterine Kire’s Walking the Roadless Road explores the life and culture of the people, confining her study to the geographical limits of the State; and Nandita Haksar and Sebastian M. Hongray tell the story of the Naga movement and why it has lasted so long by talking to the leaders and members of 10 Naga tribes spread across India and Myanmar.

Contested origins

Historians have contested the origins and ancestry of the Nagas. Kire mentions V.K. Nuh’s Origin of the Naga which claims the tribes have a seafaring past. It’s interesting that a people who have lived in the hills seemingly for ages use seashells in their shawls and boat-shaped log drums. The general consensus is that the Nagas are Mongoloid people who migrated to the mountains of Myanmar and India’s northeast. Even Naga was not a name by which they called themselves — “they would give the name of their villages or clans in answer to questions on their identity,” writes Kire. The villages they built were run on highly democratic principles, with a council of elders or gaon buras settling all disputes. The only exception to this system was the Konyak tribe which had a “monarchical system with the ahng or king as the head of the village community.”

‘Walking the Roadless Road’ and ‘Kuknalim – Naga Armed Resistance’ reviews: Nagaland’s quest for peace

When the British departed the subcontinent in a trail of bloodshed, they left many issues unresolved. The division of Naga territory too was done arbitrarily, and the tribes found themselves living in both India and Myanmar, unbound by lines on the map. The leadership and many members of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isac-Muivah) are Manipur-based Nagas, predominantly Tangkhuls. After a hitch over terms of an impending peace deal, the NSCN-IM has come on board, the talks interlocutor told The Hindu. While the Naga National Political Groups working with the Centre to find a way out of the protracted Naga crisis want a solution for Nagas within Nagaland, the NSCN-IM has been seeking integration of Naga-inhabited areas beyond the geographical boundary of the State, making neighbours Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh restive.

After the ceasefire

The NSCN (IM) reached a ceasefire agreement with the Centre in 1997. Haksar and Hongray conducted a series of interviews with NSCN leaders in the late 1990s which offer invaluable insights into the world of Naga insurgency, its links with China, role of religion, armed resistance and the tangled web of geo-politics.

Isak Chishi Swu (‘The Statesman’), from the Sema tribe, and Thuingaleng Muivah (‘The Ideologue’), a Tangkhul Naga, talk about their humble beginnings, the coming of Christianity and the changes it brought to village life, and why they joined the movement. Swu remembers meeting Angami Zapu Phizo at his home and what happened after under his leadership the Naga National Council declared independence on August 14, 1947. Swu, who passed away in 2016, told the interviewers: “We have to establish a relationship with India.” But if India thinks they can use force or devious means, they cannot solve the problem, he said. “It is not wise to use force against a small people.” Both Swu and Muivah recall the several trips to China through the forests with some harrowing experiences and what they learnt from the communists and Mao Zedong’s teachings.

Megaliths, work-songs

Amid the cacophony of voices, Kire says, “Listening is important.” Inspired by Niketu and Christine Iralu’s Kerunyuki (Listening House), where people in conflict come and hear each other out and devise ways to coexist in peace, Kire spoke to many Nagas from different walks of life, ages, outlooks to find out their thoughts about the future. She gives us an overview of the Naga tribes, society and culture, including a belief in the world of spirits. Kire writes of the Angamis and their megaliths, Aos with their distinctive log drums, the Rengmas who wear fewer ornaments, the Chakesangs and their spectacular work-songs, the Yimchungers, “great headhunters”, and so forth. “We [Nagas] are trying to walk the roadless road with hope for peace,” says Iralu. How will the Naga deal work out on the ground? With each tribe having a distinct voice, who is going to define a vision for the way ahead? Will Nagas be able to have a say in their development? Only time will tell.

Walking the Roadless Road; Easterine Kire, Aleph, ₹699.

Kuknalim: Naga Armed Resistance; Nandita Haksar & Sebastian M. Hongray, Speaking Tiger Books, ₹599.

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