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The Manipur Nagas

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By- Aheibam Koireng Singh

The Naga: its ethno genesis
The genesis of the ethnonyme ‘Naga’ is still shrouded in mystery.  In the words of Grierson, the term Naga was said to be derived from the Assamese word ‘Noga’, applied by them to the hill tribes of the Lakhimpur and Sibsagar districts. (G. GRIERSON, Linguistic Survey of India, Vol. iii. Part ii. P. 194, cited in T.C. Hudson, The Naga Tribes of Manipur, (Delhi:  LPP Publications, First eds., 1911, Rp., 1996), p.1.). The theory that Naga is derived from the Assamese word ‘Ng’ meaning ‘mountain’ was also rejected on the ground that the term is not applied to all the people living in the hills or at least in the naga hills.( GANGMUMEI KABUI; Genesis of the Ethnoses of Manipur, in eds., N.Sanajaoba, Manipur:  past and Present, Vol.iii, (N. Delhi:Mittal, 1995), P. 22.). E.W. Dun speculated that it may be derived from the word ‘Naga’ meaning ‘naked’. The basis of his speculation was drawn from the writings of James Johnstone (1885). James Johnstone spoke of the origin of the ‘Nagas’ in the following ways (Johnostone Diary, 1885 E.W. Dun, Gazetter of Manipur, Delhi:Manas , First eds.,1886 Rp. 1992, P. 28): “The Assamese word for Naga is naked and they called the Nagas so, because in the olden days, most if not all of them were naked. The word as a tribal name certainly came from Assam.” E.W. Dun further observed that they have no generic name but used the tribal names only.( E.W. DUN, Gazetter of Manipur, ( Delhi:Manas , First eds.,1886 Rp. 1992), P. 28.). Naga scholars who do not accept the colonial historiography on naga identity came up with two proposed theories. One is that naga was derived from the Kachari word ‘Nok’, meaning warriors or fighters as the Kacharis came into violent conflicts with the Naga tribes like the Angamis and Zeliangrong.  The Second proposal was made by R R.Shimray in his work ‘Origin and Culture of the Naga’. According to him it was derived from the Burmese word ‘Naka” meaning ‘pierced ears’.  (RR.SHIMRAY, Origin and Culture OF Nagas, N.Delhi: Samsok, 1985, P.278). This contention was also accepted by Isak Chisi Swu, the  Chairman of NSCN-IM faction, as the most accepted and authentic version of the origin of the word ‘Naga’.(ISAK CHISI SWU,  From Generation to generation-stories of origin and Migration of the  Nagas, Dimapur,Nagaland :Kushe Humanity  Foundation, 2001.)
Gangmumei Kamei was certain that the term Naga was popularized and enforced by the colonial administrators after it was given by the inhabitants of the Brahmaputra and the barak valleys to mean the Nagas.( GANGMUMEI KABUI; Genesis of the Ethnoses of Manipur, in eds., N.Sanajaoba, Manipur:  past and Present, Vol.iii, N. Delhi:Mittal, 1995, P. 24) . Prof. Gangmumei Kamei contended that the Nagas had traversed from South West China to Burma and eastern Thailand and to South East Asia and moved north again and finally entered into the present habitat in northeastertn India and some areas of upper burma.( LAL DENA, The Kuki-Naga conflict: Juxtaposed in the Colonial Context, in eds., Kailash. S. Aggarwal, Dynamics of Identity and Inter-Group Relations in North East India, (Shimla :  Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, 1999), P. 183.)
 Efforts to trace the Naga history and identity remain predominantly contextual and primarily constitutes of juggling and recycling of the records and notes left behind by the British administrators. In their (the nagas) attempt to fashion an identity and history suitable to the political agenda of the present generation, the Naga students federation (NSF) put a ban on researches into naga history and identity by the non- Nagas.( The Imphal Free Press Editorial,  Imphal , May 17, 2005).
The process of Nagaisation
It was in the first quarter of the twentieth century that the process of pan-Naga identity was experienced among some of the sub tribes in nagaland. It was said that a great realization took place while they (belonging to various tribal groups, viz, semas, Lothas, Rengmas, Aos, Changs, etc.) were sojourning in paris as Labour Corps during World War-I. The realization was that they belonged to the same racial stock with cultural affinity, and so they decided to come together as one people. (Naga Hoho Federal Assembly, White paper for Naga Integration). In 1918, a group of Nagas who had returned from military service in France met to form the Naga Club. The members of the club were Christian educated government officials and a numbers of headmen from around the two principal villages namely Kohima and Makokchung. The local British administrators informally supported the Club. They ran a co-operative store and held several meetings and discussions. (JULIAN JACOBS with ALAN MACFARLANE, Sarah Harrison and Anita Herle, The Nagas- Society, Culture and the Colonial Encounter, London: Thomas and Hudson Ltd, 1998, Pp 150-154.).
When the Simon Commission came to Kohima in 1929 to seek opinions on the future of India, the club submitted a memorandum signed by 20 different signatories who claimed to represent all those tribes that belong to Angamis, Kacha Nagas, Kukis, Semas, Lothas and Rengmas. One Kuki was also there among the signatories. In the said memorandum, the Naga club requested the Naga Club expressed its desire British government when they requested the later to continue to safeguard their rights against all encroachments from other people who were more advanced than them. The club also wanted their (Naga) country to be placed directly under the protection of the British. The newly formed Naga Cub did not hide from their aspiration of expanding the political sense of solidarity. It was visibly clear when they said that “there are more tribes outside the administered area which are not known at present.” The cultural markers they used to uniquely identify themselves from the people they want to be distinguished, that is, the Hindus and the Muslims, was their non-vegetarian food habits (of having pork and beef for their diet). They also differentiated themselves from the Hindus and Muslims on the basis of their lack of education and poverty.
After the formation of the Naga Club, several tribal councils were also subsequently formed, the first two being a Lhota Council (LC) in1923 and the Ao Council (AC) in1928. Shortly after the war, an overall Naga Hills District Tribal Council (NHDTC) was formed in April 1945. In 1946, it became the Naga National Council (NNC).  The sudden shift from tribal (in 1945) to Nation (in 1946) was dictated by the possible political benefits that might have been accrued from the event of the British leaving the country. Such a possibility dawned upon the elites of the tribes and their tribal consolidation effort suddenly shifted as ‘National aspiration’. But the primordial feeling among them was so strong that as late as 1954 people of Teunshang rarely spoke of themselves as Nagas but as Konyaks, Changs, Rhome, etcetera. (CF. V. ELWIN, Nagaland Research dept. Advisers’ Secretary Shillong , 1961, P. 4).
The Second World War was also a significant event in the process of nagaisation. Improved communications, increased availability of material resources and a large number of weapons were all concomitants of the war. It gave a new impetus to the process. Sajal Nag stated that the construction of Naga identity went through perpetual shifts. Further he elaborated that the Naga identity in the 1940s included even the Karbis and Nepalis but excluded all the sub-tribes of Manipur. (SAJAL NAG, Naga Identity: Formation, Constructing, Expansion, in eds. CJ. Thomas, Dimension of Development in Nagaland, Delhi 2002.). E.W. Dun has identified five tribal sub-groups of Manipur in the Census of 1881 as the naga tribes. They are Luhupa, Tangkhul, Koyla(Khoirao), Kaupui, and Maring. The present Naga tribes of Manipur did not know the term Naga as late as 1940’s, Shimray stated. He recorded his boyhood experience when he and his father were called Naga by a retreating Japanese troop during World War II. He and his father were struck with wonder when the Major of the Japanese troop who entered their house. They told the Japanese troop that they were Tangkhuls and not Naga.(RR.SHIMRAY). Gangmumei Kamei, while referring to the writings of R. Pemberton, contended that in Manipur, the identification of the tribes as Nagas started during the colonial period. Whatever the British officials applied to the Naga Hills was also applied to the Manipur tribes. For the first time, the Naga National Council (NNC) embraced some of the tribes of Manipur in 1947 when it said that “the Naga tribes are not a single tribe, but a whole group of them. Angami, Rengma, Sengma, Tangkhul, Mao, Sangtam, Chang, Zemi, Kabui, etc., each different from the others in custom and dialect, but all closely related in forming a distinct block”. So, the Tangkhul Mao and Kabui were the first to be identified as Nagas among the Non-Kuki tribes in Manipur by the Nagaisation campaign spearheaded from Nagaland.

It is interesting however, to note that the Nagas of Manipur did not take part in the plebiscite of 1951, which was considered as the bedrock of the Naga independence movement.( KAMEI, GANGMUMEI. Ethnicity and Politics in Manipur, in The Imphal Free Press, Eight Anniversary Special. Supplement, 2004, P.37.) National Movement. Accommodating him as advisor to the Manipur administration pacified him. Besikho Chamaii, a Sephou Naga from the northern hills of Manipur became the first volunteer from the hills of Manipur to join the Naga Army in 1956. In January 25, 1952, the Nagas in Nagaland under the banner of NNC launched civil disobedience movement. As a part of it, the first Indian elections to the Parliament and the Electoral College of 1952 were successfully boycotted.  On the other hand, in Manipur all the ethnic groups took active part in the said elections   and a Tangkhul was elected from the outer parliamentary constituency of Manipur.

The Naga insurgency started in 1956. In response to it the Government of India created the Naga-Hills Teunsang area (NHTA) in 1957. Later, the GOI made an agreement with the Naga People’s Convention in 1960 and subsequently formed the sixteenth state of the Indian Republic in 1963 to be named as Nagaland.  In 1964, the Indo-Naga ceasefire was extended in Manipur in its three sub-divisions namely, Tamenglong, Mao and Ukhrul. The extension was the beginning of the legitimisation of the Naga ethnic territory. It is noteworthy that many of the prominent leaders of the tribes who were later to be identified as Nagas stuck to the stand of remaining with Manipur instead of acceding to Nagaland. The All Tribal Delegation went to Delhi in May 1970 for demanding statehood of Manipur. The following are some of the members of the said delegation:

1). Daiho, Ex-Finance Minister, Manipur Assembly, 1948;

2). Stephen Angkano, Ex-President, Tangkhul Long (TL);

3). K. Kalanlung, President, Zeliangrong Regional Council (ZRC);

4).  Shoukhothang Ashon, Ex-MLA.

On 31st August 1972, the process of Nagaisation got a boost when the United Naga Integration Council (UNIC) was merged with the All India Congress Committee (AICC) with an agreement that the Congress party did not “oppose the Naga Integration movement” and did not consider it as “anti-party, anti-national, anti-state and unconstitutional activity”. (K. SANATON, Manipur Territorial Integrity and MPP (Imphal: 35th MPP Foundation Day  Organising Committee, 2002, P.5.)

According to Prof. Gangmumei Kamei, identification with the Nagas has been a process of pan-Naga identity.( GANGMUMEI KAMEI, Philosophy of History and Historiography of Manipur, (Imphal:  Manipur University Research Club, 1997). The term ‘Any Kuki Tribe’ was deleted from the list of Scheduled Tribes of Manipur in 1956.In the years that followed, there was a deep internal crisis of identity amongst the Kuki-Chin speaking tribal population. a number of the bridge-buffer communities that were oscillating between the Naga and the Kuki-Chin constellations were converted into the Naga fold by the Nagaisation process and they joined the Naga movement.( GANGMUMEI KAMEI, Ethnicity and Social Change – An Anthology of Essays, Imphal: P.C. Jain Publications, 2001, P.29). The Nagaisation process was also greatly strengthened by the Naga insurgency.(Ibid.) Marings have come to identify themselves as Naga at the instance of Church leaders and the Naga hostiles.( R.K. Ranit Singh, Emergent Ethnic Process in Manipur: A Reappraisal, in eds., B. Pakem, Nationality, Ethnicity and Cultural Identity in North-East India,  (Delhi: OMSONS Publications, 1990), P.246.).  According to Rajat Kanti Das, “The Marings, one of the Nagas of Manipur were motivated to call themselves Naga more by the Church leaders than by any other agency. Their contact with the Naga hostiles was probably more than any other tribes of the region because of the simple fact that the route to Kabaw valley passes through the Maring area.”( Ibid.)

 Gangmumei Kamei also wrote that Nagaisation process is still an ongoing phenomenanstances of tribes being encompassed within the Naga fold were seen even during very recent past. According to V. Sumi and K.Timothy, the Naga nation includes a number of tribes living in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Eastern Myanmar.( V. SUMI AND K. TIMOTHY, Cry for Justice, MIP, GPRN, P.9.)  The tribes included are as follows: 

1)..Aimol; 2).Anal; 3). Ao; 4). Angami; 5). Chakhesang; 6). Chang; 7). Cheril;      8). Chiru; 9).Chothe; 10). Kharam; 11). Khiamungam; 12). Koireng; 13).Kom;    14). Konyak; 15). Maring; 16). Moyon; 17).Monshang; 18). Lainung;                  19). Lamkang; 20). Lotha; 21).Makhori; 22). Mao; 23). Maram; 24).Sangtam; 25).Sumi; 26). Tangsa; 27). Nocte; 28).Pangmi; 29).Pochuri; 30). Phom;                         31). Poumai; 32).Rengma; 33). Tangkhul; 34). Tarao; 35) Thangal; 36). Tikhir; 37).Yimchunger; 38). Zeliangrong (Zemi,Liangmei ,Rongmei and  Puimei)

Out of the said 38 tribes, 18 tribes are in Manipur. They are – the Aimol, Anal, Chiru, Chothe, Kharam, Koireng, Kom, Maring, Mayon, Monshang, Lamkang, Mao and Maram, Thangal, Poumai, Tangkhul,Tarao, and Zeliangrong. It is interesting to note that ‘Hemi’ a tribe in which Khaplang, leader of the other NSCN faction belongs to was not recognised as a Naga tribe by the Muivah faction. The Naga movement is also not free from tribalism as there is a tendency to promote one’s own tribe over other tribes.( PANMEI NEHEMIAH, Naga Movement and its Ramifications, in Eds., Nagas at work, Delhi: NSUD Publications, 1998, P.97.). 

The Naga ethnic outfits involved either in consolidating or expanding Naga integration are compartmentalised on tribal lines. In a Government of India (GoI) report, there are four Naga outfits (Does Violence get a Mandate, published by GoI, 1993.), namely,

1). The National Socialist Council of Nagaland, Khaplang faction (NSCN-K);  2). The Naga National Council-Adino faction (NNC-A); 3). The National Socialist Council of Nagalim – Issac and Muivah faction – (NSCN –IM);  4). The Naga National Council – Khadao faction (NNC-K).

 The NNC (K) was later merged with the NSCN-IM. The membership of the NSCN-K mainly belongs to the Ao and Konyak tribes of Nagaland. The NNC-A cadres were drawn mainly from Angami and Chakhesang tribes. The NNC-K largely belongs to the Lotha tribe. The membership of NSCN-IM consists mainly of Tangkhul and Sema tribes.( Ibid.)

In post GoI-NSCN-IM Ceasefire more and more armed Naga groups were proliferating thereby contributing further to the legitimacy crisis to the claim by any particular armed Naga group of representing the collective Naga aspiration, National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Unification was formed by several cadres who broke away from the NSCN-IM led by its one-time ‘home minister’ Azheto Chopey on 23 November 2007. NSCN (Khole-Kitovi) faction was formed on June 7, 2011. The faction was formed by a dissenting group of cadres of NSCN-Khaplang faction (NSCN-K) under the leadership of Khole Konyak and Kitovi Zhimoni. In recent times also, many Naga armed groups which doesn’t toe the line with the dictates and whims of the NSCN-IM such as Naga National Liberation Authority (NNLA), Manipur Naga Revolutionary Front (MNRF), and Zeilangrong United Front (ZUF) having their own respective territorial control also came into existence

The Naga National Assembly convened by Mr. Isak Chishi Swu, Vice President NNC, and Mr. Th. Muivah, General Secretary NNC, rejected the Shillong Accord as a sell-out and condemned the signatories of the Accord as traitors in October 1975. National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was formed in January 1980 by the activists of NNC/Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN) regrouping on the Burmese side of the border, with the declared objective of carrying forward the struggle for Naga national independence. By the beginning of 1988, there were serious differences within the leadership of the NSCN which ultimately led to its split into two- one led by Isak and Muivah and the other led by Khaplang. Apart from NSCN-IM, other armed Naga groups are not giving too much importance and emphasis to the inclusion of ‘Naga inhabited areas’ of Manipur, Nagaland and Assam to proposed Nagalim. With the NSCN-IM seemingly abandoning the agenda of sovereign Nagaland ever since it enter into peace agreement with the GoI, Eastern Nagaland, to be formed by dismembering the territory of Eastern Myanmar, which earlier constitutes the inalienable part of sovereign Nagaland no longer features in and is conveniently avoided in their demand. In connection with it, Subhir Bhaumik, Editor of Seven Sister Post once commented, “If Eastern Nagaland can go, what is so holy about Southern Nagaland.”

Onwards from the early part of the 90s of the passing twentieth century, Naga organizations operating in Manipur both overground and underground have intensely been engaged in ethnic homogenization of territory in Manipur Hills through forced population transfer, mass annihilation, and cooption. V. Sumi and K. Timothy (1997) listed 38 numbers of tribe living in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Eastern Myanmar as belonging to the Naga nation. Out of the said 38 tribe, 18 tribes are in Manipur. In the early part of 2002, the NSCN-IM suggests a number of 43. Instances of tribes being encompassed within the Naga fold is still an ongoing process. The simple example of it is the Peace Process Annual Calendar, 2008, Ministry of Information and Publicity, GPRN, in which the number was expanded to 68.

(To be continued on next issue)

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