When Dr. Lichumo Enie, the Principal of Unity College, kindly invited me to conduct a seminar at his college; I chose the topic, “Hereditary Chieftainship and its Role in the Expansion of the Sumis”; for I realised that many Nagas, including my fellow tribesmen, did not know how the Sumis came to have villages in different parts of Nagaland (or, for the matter, in the Northeast; for there are 7 Sumi Villages in the Upper Assam District of Tinsukia and 1 on the Guwahati Shillong highway).
The desire to prosper is a universal human desire; this trait is the driving force that makes a man brave innumerable odds and risk life and limb to achieve ownership and dominance. This desire has been reinforced in the Sumis by our custom of hereditary chieftainship. Any Sumi, provided he has the courage, fortitude and the resources, may, with the permission of the chief of his village of origin, migrate and establish a new village, wherein he becomes the hereditary chief.
When the British arrived in the Northeast of India, they classified it into Assam, (which included the Naga Hills and the Lushai Hills), NEFA (North East Frontier Agency) and the Kingdoms of Manipur and Tripura and. The Sumis of present day Zunheboto came under the Naga Hills, and those of Aghunato and Kiphirie were part of NEFA, and later NHTA (Naga Hills Tuensang Area). JHHutton, in his book, The Sema Nagas states that the arrival of the British stopped the natural expansion of the Sumis and that, given the rise in population of the Sumis and the low fertility of their lands, it was commendable that the British India Government was issuing them permits to establish villages beyond their present boundaries.
The Sumis, with British Permits in hand, risked all to establish villages in the large swathe of virgin forests that once covered the border between present day Assam and Nagaland. In an age where there were no roads and no shops, and very little money, they walked for days on end, carrying every bit of food they needed on their backs. In a day when there was no machinery, they felled every tree and cleared every bush with their daos; and leveled every bit of ground with their hoes. In the days when a muzzle loading gun was worth its weight in gold, they stood off the elephant and tiger with their daos and spears. In an age when hospitals were unheard of, they dropped like flies to malaria and countless other tropical diseases. But still they persevered; to clear the forests to build their villages and to till the earth to raise their crops.
The establishment of the State of Nagaland saw Sumis Villages in the, then 3 districts of Nagaland, viz. Kohima (Pughoboto and Dimapur), Mokokchung (Zunheboto and the Northern Sumi Villages of present day Mokokchung and Wokha Districts) and Tuensang (Aghunato and Kiphirie). Further establishment of new districts has seen the same Sumi Villages falling under different districts. New Sumi villages have not sprung up overnight, across different districts of Nagaland, rather new districts have been formed.
That the Sumis have extended the boundaries of Nagaland in an attempt to reclaim all the land that fell under the erstwhile Naga Hills is witnessed in our villages across the Dhansiri River (towards Bokajan), established in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This land is still claimed by Assam, and the Sumi villagers there were persecuted and prosecuted by the Government of Assam, its Forest Guards and Police for years on end. Their houses were destroyed, their utensils were smashed or crushed and kerosene was poured on their paddy grains. Many Sumis landed up in Diphu and Golaghat Jails. The Government of Assam seems, then and now, to have a deliberate policy of settling Tea Tribes (Adivasis) and Nepalis in the forests that once fell under the Naga Hills.
The Sumis of the area decided that enough was enough, and in 1979, under the guidance of the late Mr. K (Kiyekhu) Shikhu, former Speaker of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly, and the then sitting MLA of Ghaspani-I, the Sumis went to war to reclaim ownership of lands that rightfully belonged to the Naga Hills. Estimates of the people killed vary, but an enormous furore erupted, both in Assam and Nagaland. It is reported that during a session of our State Assembly, some of our Naga MLAs demanded the arrest and prosecution of Mr. K Shikhu, but it was the late Mr. Kharikaba Longchar, the Representative from the Impur Assembly Constituency, who rose up to defend Mr. Shikhu and the Sumis.
On the other hand, the complaints of the Assam Government, compelled the Union Government to send a team of Central Intelligence Officers to investigate the matter and to interrogate Mr. Shikhu. Mr. Shikhu was accompanied by the late Mr. IK Changkija, the then A.D.C. of Dimapur. During the course of the interrogation, held at the Circuit House, Dimapur, Mr. Shikhu was asked if the attack was planned and whether he had foreknowledge of it; Mr. Shikhu, a straightforward man as any that lived, replied, “Yes” to both. Upon which the Intelligence Officers said that in that case, they would be compelled to arrest him; whereupon Mr. Changkija jumped into the fray and told the Officers that they would have to arrest him first. Meanwhile, a team of Nagaland Armed Police, led by the late Mr. Tako Jamir, IPS (then a DSP) and ABSI Zukhevi Sema had surrounded the Circuit House, ready to extricate Mr. Shikhu and Mr. Changkija.
All this was possible because the Government of Nagaland, led by the then Chief Minister, the late Mr. Vizol Angami, and Mr. Z Obed, the then Commissioner of Nagaland, and Nagas in general, believed that the interests of the State of Nagaland rose above narrow personal, party and tribal interests.
Unsubstantiated reports say that when Mrs. Indira Gandhi returned to power as Prime Minister of India in 1980, she personally intervened, but the area was declared, “Disputed” and still remains under the control of Central Security Forces. This area remains the most peaceful in the entire disputed belt along the Nagaland-Assam border.
A neutral observer will notice that the Sumi Villages, apart from those in Zunheboto are nearly always located on the borders of Nagaland. This was because the British Permits and the later Sumi villagers made sure that their villages did not encroach on the existing Naga Villages. (To be continued)
Kahuto Chishi Sumi
Akukau, Hevishe Village, Khaghaboto Range
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