Saturday, September 30, 2023
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Story: Naga Traditional Village

Besesayo Kezo, IPSRetd DGP

“Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things, and which can sometimes pay the rent.” –Neil Gaiman (1960- )

Nagas lived in villages. They were protected by forts, rocks, ditches, traps, spikes, thorny trees and creepers, poisonous plants and shrubs. All entrances and exits were strictly regulated and controlled. The village gates were made of very strong wooden doors with decorative carvings and guarded by village warriors and well-trained dogs. The village was their world which was ruled democratically. It was divided into two roughly equal parts based on the area and population for purpose of various competitions. Further, subdividing into khels/social groupings and permanently placing under the administrative control of a particular clan or lineage. Any villager could settle down anywhere and represent the khel/social grouping under which a person resided unless it was specifically meant for that particular clan. He could be even selected as an enlightened member to assist the village council as a young man for wisdom, integrity and fame which post he could hold at the pleasure of the village council. The village council was a permanent body represented by the oldest men from each clan. The councillors held office for life. The oldest from them became the head or chief of the village council. The head or chief of the village council was the most honoured person in the village. The reason for respect was his age. No traditional village ceremony or ritual was complete without him. Neither could be held without his personal initiation and blessing nor eat and drink in his presence before he first offered the libation and prayers to the deity, Eternal Spirit, without name or form, on behalf of the village. He presided over all the village council meetings, ceremonies and rituals. The village council was the highest law making body and final authority in the civil and criminal tribunals. The traditional nagas were very fond of swearing or oath-taking in the name of their Eternal Spirit in order to show honesty and integrity in settling even minor disputes and cases. The councillors decided cases according to village customary laws and traditional practices; representing the village in the inter-village disputes and relationships. Village-Councillors were prominent role-players whilst merit feasts, diplomatic feasts and village treaties.

They maintained very formal diplomatic ties with all the neighbouring villages. They did not have much trade and commercial activities with the outside world. The villages were quite self-sufficient; economically, but neither could they generate surplus products for sale nor master the art of taming animals either for cultivation or transport. Cattles were reared mainly for meat. Economic activities followed the seasons of the year. Welcoming the new season with a feast and celebrating the ending or harvesting season with thanksgiving to their deity. Lunar calendar was followed which counted the phases of the moon very accurately and scientifically by the most experienced persons in the village.

The village populace practiced both permanent wet terraced cultivation and slash and burn method of farming. They also hunted wild animals and birds with the help of dogs for food from forests, jungles and rivers. Forests and jungles were rich with many eatable mushrooms and wild vegetables — regularly gathered, even by children for their families throughout the year. The richness in nature supplemented the supply of meat and vegetables to the villagers. The knowledge of cotton plantation was known; the arts and science of processing it into clothes – weaving and dyeing the yarns and clothes with various hues and colours from the bark of trees and plants. The women wove clothes, stitched dresses and did the household chores. The men took care of warfare and other manly activities. However, the civilisation was deficient of two basic articles, namely, salt and iron. They did not produce iron and the quantity of salt found in their village was not sufficient for their consumption. Whereof, they went to the plains in the west in search of iron and salt, believing that salt contained some magical qualities and vital for health. Only wealthy family could have enough of it in their curry. Without iron the practise of agriculture or forging weapons for defence and offence; was not possible. The visits to the western plains were very challenging and dangerous. A group of selected warriors would always escort them through the treacherous terrains and perilous journey which lacked a proper footpath enduring the passing of thick forests infested with wild animals, poisonous snakes and hostile naga villages en route. After reaching the destination, they interacted with the traders bartering goods or buying salt and iron with cash and return home heavily loaded. During some of those journeys for trade, they might have encountered some British settlements or tea estates, harassed and raided them, because by the 19th century, the British Imperialist had already conquered Assam and ruled over there. So they despatched punitive expeditions to the almost inaccessible Naga country with the latest weapons supported by their allies. The Nagas resisted very valiantly with daos and spears and many of them died heroically in the battles but eventually defeated. Their villages were burnt into ashes and their granaries and livestock were completely destroyed. The British Empire ruled over the Naga country from the 19th century up to 1947, till India got independence.

The British administration introduced Christianity and education into the naga country. The naga animism had a lot of similarities with Judaism and Christianity. The animist nagas believed in the Eternal Spirit who was present everywhere, all knowing and all powerful. He neither had a name nor form. Thereof, could easily identify this nameless and formless god with the Jewish God Jehovah or Jesus Christ. Perhaps, that was the reason why they were easily converted into Christianity within a short time. The Christian missionaries also imparted education to the native Christian children which enabled them to read the Holy Bible and sing hymns. This made them literate and opened their eyes to the world.

Our people took a sudden jump from the tribal society to modern civilisation within a very short span of time. It was so disruptive emotionally and socially. Physically, we have changed a lot, but, psychologically, many of us are still behaving like those primitive ancestors who raided the plain people without understanding the consequences. It is easier to imitate the appearances but more difficult to transform our thinking process. Today, many of our leaders and children misbehave badly in public despite their position and education. It is something like putting a Mahindra engine into the body of a Mercedes car. Outwardly, it is Mercedes, but the engine is Mahindra. If you start the car, it will never work like a Mercedes car despite its look. Also, comparing it to a computer, we have changed the hardware but still using the outdated software programmed with the primitive naga version! Perhaps, the comparisons are too crude and quite inappropriate but if we observe the behaviour of our people, many of them don’t behave decently either inside or outside the office. It is time to develop a cosmopolitan outlook abandoning the tribal mindset. Can we ‘think globally, act locally’?