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Book Review :Naga Polity

by Rinku Khumukcham
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Author: Prof. M. Horam
Publisher: Sunmarg Publishers & Distributers,
New Delhi, 2016
Reviewer: Dr. Sapam Dilipkumar Singh
Assistant Professor, Department of Law, M.U.
In the Book “Naga Polity”, the author, Prof. M. Horam gives a holistic account of the Naga polity with a unique research method of finding commonality of various tribes inhabited in Nagaland and Manipur from time immemorial. It stated with a brief survey of the relation between Naga and Ahom since 13th century and also Naga political issue right from the genesis of the problem. It contains 10 (ten) chapters with introduction of Christopher von Furer- Haimendorf, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. What is interesting and striking part of the book is the explanation that the common origin of various tribes of Manipur and Nagaland lies in the ‘Meikhel’ which is a small village between the Mao and Maram areas, 10 miles south- east of the present town of Kohima. He writes” the legends of the Angamis, Semas, Lothas, Tangkhuls, Maos, and other Manipuri Nagas as well as the Semra Nagas name Makhel or its adjacent areas as their place of origin. The Nagas of Manipur, especially the Tangkhuls, Maos, Marams, Khoiraos and Marings, including the Meitei, (i.e Manipuris) – originated from Makhen. (p.40)”
Quoting an Angami legend as narrated by a village elder, the author writes “the Kukis, Lushais, Meiteis and Nagas were all one people to begin with. The ancestor of the present Angamis was the eldest, of the Lushai- Kukis the second and of the Meiteis the youngest brother.”(p.40.) The author, based on Tangkhul legend, further narrated more on the common origin of Tangkhul and Meitei in two versions in the page no. 41-43 of the book. It was a historical fact that forced conversion of Meetei into orthodox Hinduism in the 18th century under full patronage of the then King Pamheiba has resulted in manufacturing a history claiming Meetei as descendent of Arjuna. The writer argued that “But since the advent of orthodox Hinduism the Manipuris are claiming descent from Arjuna, one of the five Pandavas. While making no comments on that claim, it is reasonable to think that a new faith does not necessarily require a change of ancestors. Moreover, by merely changing ancestors, we cannot change historical facts.” (p.54). The book in brief but precisely dealt with the Naga family, clan and village organisation of which Morung is the most important organisation for youths. It is both a training school in the arts of life and war and a club for entertainment and fun.
It is the fact that life of tribal society is mainly governed by different customary laws and practices even today. However, books on such subject are very scanty in Manipur because only a few scholars have interest and undertaken research on such areas. The present book could fill such gap to some extend by dedicating a large chapter discussing on village administration which contains sub topic on marriage and divorce, law of inheritance and adoption and maintenance of law and order. It is described in the book that in most tribes divorce is uncommon but it is easier in some others. Separations may come about either through mutual consent or by appeal to the village authority. The author listed some grounds of divorce prevalent in various tribes such as Ao, Angami and Tangkhul and wrote, “The reasons for divorce are several. First, barrenness; secondly, adultery, supposed or proved; sometimes even the slightest hint of infidelity leads to divorce. Thirdly, an Ao can divorce his wife if she fails to bear him an heir within a reasonable period, say, five or six years.”(p.134) A unique inheritance right of women is mentioned in the page no. 126 of the book which states that those ornaments which she herself brought are her absolute property and she can give them away to her daughter or anyone she likes. In case, she does not distribute them during her lifetime they goes to her father’s heirs.(p.126) Dispute is inevitable in human society be it tribal or civilised and even in the primitive society, there exist mechanism for settlement of disputes. Taking oath is one of the important methods for settlement of disputes among various tribal groups such as Angami, Ao and Tangkhul. The author writes, “ A very common oath was swearing by tiger’s tooth or human skull. There was a belief that a person swearing falsely would be killed by a tiger. … Oath taken on human skulls were rare as they often resulted in death whether or not a man was guilt.”(p157). Settlement of disputes by taking oath has been one of the common practices among the Meiteis since time immemorial. When a dispute could not be settled by existing human institutions, the disputants frequently referred to the dispute for divine judgement by taking oath before the Umanglais situates in every Meitei villages.
Change is inevitable in human society. The book explained that the advent of Christianity and impact of Second World War on the Naga villages which were battlefield of Japanese and British forces were twine factors that brought about far reaching change in Naga society. Author writes, “It was as if a curtain had been lifted offering them for the first time a glimpse of the rest of the world. Soldiers of various races passed through, lived, fought and died in the Naga Hills. For most hillmen it was their first brush with outsiders- the Japanese, Azad Hind Fauj and Allied soldiers” (p169). Both Positive and negative change brought about in the political, social, cultural and economic structure of tribal society such as Ao, Angami and Tangkhul by the advent of Christianity has also been thoroughly highlighted in the concluding part of the book. The book which studies some specific tribes of the North – East region, might have been written in the early 1970s by Prof. M. Horam, a renowned scholar of the North- East India, however, the information and ideas expressed and arguments put forwarded in the books has relevancy in the contemporary Manipuri society where polarisation of any sort among various communities reached its peak. The methodology he has adopted for undertaking such research is the need of the hour. When one start reading this book there would be an impelling desire to finish with one go without any stoppage like reading Dr, Lamabam Komol’s Manipuri Novel “ Madhabi”. The book is worth to read by the students, scholars, lawyers, politicians, cultural activists as it give an insight into Naga Polity. The author has flagged off a Journey to find out common tie of various Indigenous People of Nagaland and Manipur – with Special Focuss on the Nagas.

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