I have explained how the Sumis came to reside in many districts across Nagaland. Here, I intend to address, in general terms, the issue of ownership of land among the Nagas of Nagaland.
Some Sumi and Zeliang Villages have had a confrontation over land. The Sumis and Zeliangs both claim to have documents proving ownership of the land, if so, authenticating their various claims should not be a problem. There are laws to deal with the issue at hand, a dispute between some villages should not flare up into a Tribal confrontation. The Government of Nagaland is to be blamed for not taking up the matter with more urgency and for failing to enforce its own order to maintain the status quo.
But a more ominous issue has raised its head, as a result of this confrontation. The Zeliangrong grouping of the Zeme, Liangmai and Rongmei tribes are claiming that the entire District of Peren and the Intangki Reserve Forest belongs to them. The District of Peren was created just a few years ago in 2003, prior to that it fell under Dimapur District, and still earlier, it fell under Kohima District, did the land now falling under Peren District belong to the Angamis when it was under Kohima District? Know that districts are political creations and do not reflect ownership.
In the context of the Nagas, in general terms, you may say that such a place belongs to a certain tribe; but in actual and legal terms, it is untrue. For among Nagas, ownership of land resides with the clan, within the village; not with the clan, at large, and certainly not with the tribe. What this means is that every village has its own land (apart from portions which may be demarcated for common usage) and that the different clans within the village hold exclusive ownership over parts of the land. Using the example of my village of origin, Lokobomi; a Sumi from another village cannot claim any right to the land, just because he happens to hail from the same Tribe. The Chishi and Ayemi Clans, between them, own nearly all the land in Lokobomi Village, but a Chishi or Ayemi from a different village has no right or claim to the Chishi and Ayemi lands in Lokobomi, unless related by blood. And so I believe it is with every other Naga Tribe in Nagaland.
Land ownership in Nagaland is held at the village, not the tribal level. We were and are, village republics, not tribal republics; tribal awareness is a recent phenomenon in the context of Nagaland, and our customs and laws regarding land, resources and their ownership has yet to evolve to the tribal level.
No Naga Tribe owns any land on a tribal level, so, how can the Zemi, Liangmai and Rongmei Tribes claim collective ownership of any land? And what customary claim to anything does the Rongmei Tribe have in Nagaland? In the context of Naga Customs and Laws, unless a particular village of a particular tribe claims ownership of any land, any claim by an entire tribe or group of tribes is patently false.
The land of the early Naga Villages usually comprised of the extent of land they could cultivate in a 20 year cycle of Jhum Cultivation, along with the land their semi-domesticated Mithuns could range about; it did not include all the adjoining lands, land they may have crossed or land stretching as far as their eyes could see.
To claim ownership over land, one must have documentation from a universally acknowledged authority, or the land must carry visible signs of usage by the claimant. Visible signs of usage mean standing settlements or villages, forested areas which have been cleared for the purpose of either settlement or cultivation or even the ruins of earlier villages, settlements or cultivated fields.
The internationally recognised criteria that a land has been settled or colonised is for the claimant to have raised crops on the land. Which Zeme, Liangmai or Rongmei village has cultivated anything in the Intangki Forests?
There are rumours that some Nagas of Manipur are assiduously attempting to set up villages in and around Intangki Reserve Forest, it is for the Government to actively investigate and promptly evict any and all encroachers, be they from any tribe or state. As to the NNC (Parent Body), I expect to see a clarification regarding the press release issued by the Zeliangrong workers in your faction. Is your purpose to fight for the rights of the establishment of Zeliangrong Villages? Whose parents are you? And who are your children?
Intangki Forest has been recognised as virgin forest and has remained a sanctuary for wildlife ever since the arrival of modern governance in the Naga Hills. From the days of the British Raj, to governance under Assam after independence, its sanctity has been maintained, while the rest of Nagaland has been deforested and nearly all wildlife, decimated. Those who hold the reins of governance of the Government of Nagaland must ensure it remains a reservoir of flora and fauna for future generations of Nagaland.
God Save Nagaland
Kahuto Chishi Sumi
Akukau, Hevishe Village, Khaghaboto Range
Disclaimer: Your Page will carry readers’ unplugged contributions. None of the features will be edited but the Editor reserves the right to withhold contributions considered inflammatory or libelous.