Thursday, July 29, 2021
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Who are Nagas?

Xavier Pfokrehe Mao
Professor, Department of Philosophy
NEHU, Shillong

Before I begin to answer the question I would like to raise first a few questions. Which tribe is called the naked Nagas? Which tribe is called Kacha Nagas? Are Nagas having a common ancestor? Which tribe was first called Naga tribe? Which tribe is the last to be called Naga tribe? Why Nagas are still confused about their common identity? Are there real Nagas and unreal Nagas? When did the nomenclature of the word Naga come to be used to the various allied and cognate tribes and sub-tribes? Are all Nagas naked in the early 20th century? Which are the two places of Naga origin where maximum Naga tribes trace their migration with certainty? Is Nagamese real Naga language? When will Nagas have their common language with their indigenous language?
The word Naga is not indigenous to the present Naga people. In other words, it is given by Shan/Ahom people as per available authentic documents like the word ‘Hindu’ was given by Persian. Similarly the word ‘China’ was given by Indian. The naked Nagas (Konyak Nagas) by Christopher Von Haimendorf and Kacha Nagas (Zeliang Nagas) is a corrupted form of Angami language for Ketsa (forest) people for Zeliang Nagas by outsiders on inquiry from Angamis have created huge confusion and misunderstanding among the Nagas and non-Nagas till today due to ignorance and prejudice. Different theories and conjectures are put forth to explain the origin of the use of Naga to the present Naga people inhabiting in the state of Nagaland, Naga hills of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Myanmar due to lack of definite historical record. Unfortunately till today there is no study syllabus in schools. Therefore, ignorance is still wide spread among the Nagas including even educated ones. From the available references, various ethnographical anthropological and historical writings including oral tradition of neighbouring non-Naga tribes, it is fairly certain that the word Naga was not applied to the present Naga people until 19th century though the word ‘Kha’ was referred to Heimi and Lanong Naga tribes of Myanmer in the 18th century by Shan and Khachin people. As per Ahom Buranjis the first tribes to be called Nagas are the Tangsa, Wancho, Nocte and later to Konyak which means highlanders and not snake or naked or earlobe piercing people as interpreted by some scholars. Thus the evolution is from Kha to Nakha to Naga due to differences in pronounciation. The Nagas were not at all aware that they were all belonging to the same ethnic stock due to complete isolation and total lack of formal education. Initially many Nagas even refused to be called Nagas. Yet outsiders perceived that the different tribes and sub-tribes of Nagas were having a lot of common features and family resemblances among themselves. It is for this reason many researchers and their neighbours used to call them all as Nagas with the writing about them. They are the following: The Nagas in the 19th century by Verrier Elwin, the North East frontier of India by Alexander Mackenzie, the Eastern Frontier of India by R.B. Pemberton, a history of Assam by Sir Edward Gait, Manipur and the Naga hills by Sir James Johnstone, The Angami Nagas (including Chakesang, Mao, Poumai, Maram and Thangal) by J.H. Hutton, The Sema Nagas by J.H.Hutton, The Naga Tribes of Manipur by T.C. Hodson, The Ao Nagas by J.P. Mill and also by W.C. Smith, The Rengma Nagas by J.P. Mill, The Lhotha Nagas by J.P. Mill, the Mao Nagas (including poumai) by Lt. Col. Shakespear and etc. The Nagas can be broadly categorized as Tenyimia group consisting of ten tribes, Konyak and their allied tribes like Wancho, Nocte, Heimi etc, Some of the Eastern tribes, Anal and their allied tribes like Moyon, Monsang, Lamkan, Chothe etc who were put under old Kuki group by British writers. The old Kuki group classified by the British were the last to be included within the Naga Family. The first tribes to be called Nagas were from Myanmar and NEFA or Arunachal Pradesh.
One who seriously examines and reflects upon the languages, customs, food habits, demeanours, and beliefs etc of the different Naga tribes; there is no real Nagas and unreal Nagas. Further, in the 19th century all Nagas were not naked particularly the Tenyimia group. The prefix ‘naked’ for the Konyak Nagas has misled many people thinking that all Nagas were naked even in the 19th century. Similarly the ‘Kacha Nagas’ for Zeliang Nagas has also misled so many people including the Nagas due to complete ignorance for many years even now.
The umbrella term Bodo or Kachari covers several allied tribes and sub-tribes but unlike the Nagas they do not agree and accept this. Similarly the umbrella term Kuki covers several allied tribes and sub-tribes but today many do not accept it. In fact, Kuki-Chin-Lushai or Mizo allied tribes and sub-tribes have much more linguistic similarities among themselves than the Nagas and yet till today they do not have commonly accepted umbrella term. Seven major tribes of Manipuri or Meitei form into one community called Meitei people with a common language. Even the various tribes and sub-tribes of Khasi and Jaintia are coming together as one community with a common language of Cherra and under the umbrella term Khasi. All such social processes and construction come with heightened consciousness and quality education.
Why in the case of the Nagas the umbrella term Naga is accepted by all tribes with some reservation? The answer is primarily because of political consciousness and spearheaded by Mr. A. Z. Phizo, the father of the Naga political movement. Though he was just class ten, he was very broad minded and inclusive in his approach to the different Naga tribes despite certain shortcomings unlike many of the so called Naga National political groups who are terribly narrow-minded, exclusive and highly violent. In the history of the Naga political movement no one is as popular as Mr. Phizo. Further nobody commands as much respect as Mr. Phizo how and why? An instance can substantiate this point. In 1990, when his dead body was brought to Nagaland from London the overwhelming pouring of emotion from a huge numbers of people from all over the Naga inhabited areas with Naga National flag spontaneously gathered to pay their last tribute was a crystal clear proof of the above statement. In several places like Shillong and many other places condolence meetings were organized to bid final farewell to him was amazing and unprecedented in the history of the Nagas. Lastly Dimapur Airport was at once named after him and he was buried in kohima, the capital city of Nagaland and not in his native village.
In the near future there is no possibility of having a common Naga language without physical and emotional integration of contiguous areas. Though Makhel and Khezakeno are the last two halting places complementary to each other where majority of the Naga tribes trace their immediate origin of migration still serious systematic scientific research are needed including genetic studies. The other important reason is deep division and distrust caused by excessive tribalism despite the vital role played by Forum for Naga Reconciliation. History is testimony to this: The formation of ‘The Revolutionary Government of Nagaland’ on 2nd November 1968 mainly comprised of the Sema or Sumi tribe with a few individuals from some other tribes did not hesitate to betray the whole Naga political movement at the altar of crass tribalism. This is also betrayal of the PLA of China. This betrayal had inevitably led to the signing of controversial ‘Shillong Accord’ of 1975. Another manifestation of excessive tribalism was the brutal cold blooded fratricidal shooting in 1988 in which many were killed; when NSCN was split into two. Many instances can be cited. In short, Nagas are still a long way to go towards peaceful civilised co-existence.
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