KOHIMA, AUGUST 26: A lecture on ‘Journey from the heart: Naga Repatriation and healing of the land’ was delivered by Naga Anthropologist Dolly Kikon at de Oriental Grand, Kohima, on August 26.
The lecture centered around the homecoming and restitution of the 214 odd Naga ancestral remains and cultural objects that are being currently housed at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England.
Sharing on how the ongoing dialogue on repatriation began, Kikon shared that 2 years ago she, along with her colleague, Dr. Arkotong Longkumer, who is also an Anthropologist, initiated a dialogue with PRM with the aim to address issues surrounding the repatriation of the ancestral human remains.
“Going ahead with the initiative, we reached out to Naga elders, researchers and the respective traditonal bodies. Majority of the respondents affirmed the dignity and sacredness of the human remains but the question of ownership over the ancestral remains and the process of repatriating them was raised”, informed Kikon.
In this regard, the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) has made it crystal clear that it is the Naga people who have the ownership of the process.
“The idea is not to seek vengeance but the idea is for us to come together as a collective and reflect”, Kikon stated.
She said, “It was a time of reckoning for us. I believe that the voices of the Naga people, young and old will come together in this repatriation journey to reflect, dialogue and initiate for the return of our Naga ancestral remains.”
“May this journey stem from our hearts founded on hope and healing of our lands”, she said.
Stating that the collective repatriation and reparation initiative will enable and dignify homecoming and provide an honourable memorial to our ancestors, Kikon opined that identifying and addressing the burdens of British Colonization on Naga people by telling one’s story and reclaiming one’s history is the way forward.
She also suggested that the journey should also encompass the creation of a process of healing from the burden of colonization and facilitate mending of broken relationships, create space for cooperation among the present generation of Nagas as they participate in recovering the ancestral human remains and initiate a cycle of healing and restoration so that the younger Naga generation can shape a future with love and respect for one another.
Pointing out that since the whole process was new, Kikon added she along with Longkumer observed a lot of fear and uncertainty in the response of the people toward the initiative.
It requires rethinking, reconceptualizing and renegotiating the process, she added.
Dr. Vizovono Elizabeth, an independent researcher and freelance editor in her response to the lecture noted that FNR deserves to be appreciated for having the heart and courage to take the lead.
“I want to thank you for showing us what a researcher can do and is supposed to do”, she said.
She said that research and higher education in Nagaland is turning into a farce where many people are compelled to register for a Ph. D and earn their degrees for the mere necessity of fulfilling an educational criterion for a teaching job. And most often, it ends at that, she said.
“At a time when we are so divided by tribalism and petty politics among ourselves, this moment has presented itself to us to sit together, join hands and work together for the common good of all Nagas. I believe that we are in a moment of historical significance”, she said.
Highlighting that a golden opportunity has been handed to the Nagas to take control of their own narrative, to write their own story and create the kind of history they want to leave behind as their legacy, Elizabeth said that the ball is in our court as we have been given centre stage but the pertinent question still remain as to whether Nagas can unite as a people and rise up to the occasion?
“I agree that we have to begin by recognising and accepting that even today, we continue to live in a state of neo-colonialism. That is why it is so important for our voices to be heard”, she said.
She also shared her thoughts and suggestions that have been put together after discussions and consultations with different individuals in her capacity.
“First, regarding the repatriation of human remains, we have learnt that there are differing opinions on this. And we must take all things into account.
“It is a humungous task that entails so many aspects, perhaps if individuals and communities were to each have it their way, it would make things more complicated. Therefore, a possible way forward is to have a common place where all the Naga ancestral human remains are laid to rest in a way that is acceptable and honourable to all”. She said. Further, this physical site can be built as a memorial to our ancestors. Perhaps this would be a most appropriate way of uniting to honour them, she said.
She posited that the place will be a point where anyone can come and pay homage to them; it would also become a site of historical significance; further, it would serve to be a tangible heritage site that reminds us of our history, lest we forget.
Such a facility could also provide an opportunity for students and researchers from all over the world to study about Naga cultural heritage, on our terms with the local people in charge. It could immediately become a centre of international excellence and it has the potential to also be a tourist attraction, she said.
Nagaland and the entire Northeast region of India are like a goldmine for scholars of Cultural Anthropology and Sociology. But we have been so consumed by the narrative of violence and politics.
Here is a golden opportunity to change the narrative and engage in more meaningful and productive pursuits, she said.
To make these things come to fruition, of course the big question is “who will fund these projects?” I will understand that it is definitely an impossible task for the FNR and the project team to carry this out by themselves.
So the next point of suggestion is, why not get the State Government’s support for funding? Or better still, if it does not violate terms of negotiation between the PRM and FNR, why not include this even in the Framework Agreement with GOI?
Citing that the immediate neighbours of the Nagas, the Assamese, could negotiate with GOI and include the establishment of a cultural institution in the Assam Accord 1985, Elizabeth questioned whether the same can be actuated for Nagaland as well.
She informed that the Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra, the Assamese cultural museum, was established to “protect, preserve and promote the cultural, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”. And this came into being by “placing the project of Kalakshetra under Clause VI of the Assam Accord 1985”, with constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards.
Elizabeth also stated that since the talk is about decolization, reconciliation and healing of the land, it is fair to expect that GoI should have no reason to be averse to a decolonial project aimed at the same former colonial power from whom India herself fought for independence as a nation.
Speaking in the present context of Nagas’ demand for a flag and constitution, Elizabeth questioned as to whether or not it would be a travesty to someday possess the same with no tangible cultural heritage left in the ancestral land to carry forward the Naga story.
Summing up her response to the lecture, she noted “Our way has always been out talking things out. To listen to one another, negotiate and come to an agreement or consensus; and to respect and honour the word of one another ~ that is the value of our indigenous Naga tradition”, she said.
Editor, Morung Express, Along Longkumer said that the repatriation process involves many steps. As much as it involves the community, it is also a legal process and an international process as well.
The first phase was more in terms of assessing and having small interviews. We are now in the phase-II, where it is more in terms of reaching out to the public, he said.
Questions pertaining to the provenance, the object themselves will come in the next phase, he informed.
This is an incremental process so that when the claim is made at the University of Oxford, the team should be having a case that should be accepted by the University of Oxford, he said.
So it would take a long time and it still requires a lot of ground work and research work because of the claim and only after that the claim can be made at the University of Oxford, he added.