Dialogue  April-June, 2005, Volume 6  No. 4

Book Review

The Myths and Realities of Naga Identity

Prof S. M. Dubey

The  author of  this book has devoted more than three decades of  his life- working as a teacher and the Principal of the Govt. Degree  college in Nagaland. He has been a direct witness to the many unfolding developments and the ups and the downs of the Naga politics. He was a member of the Academic Council as well as of the Executive Council of the North Eastern Hill University, Shillong. As a keen observer and researcher in the fields of tribes, culture, language and ethnicity, he has carefully looked into the  multi-faced challenging problems of this fascinating region. Thus, due to his long standing contacts with the tribes and his wide experience, he had advantage to understand the aspirations, motivations and frustrations of the tribal people of the north east region in general and the Nagas in particular. The ‘Foreword’ of the book is written by Balmiki Prasad  Singh, former Home Secretary, Govt of India.. As an Assam cadre I A S officer, Mr. B P Singh has also spent considerable period of his service career  in the north east part of India. His rich experience is reflected in the Foreword.

The book is divided into 15 chapters. The three annexures-
(a) Memorandom of the Nagas to Simon Commission, (b) Nine point Understanding, and (c) Sixteen Point Proposals, incorporated in the end of the book, are of historical importance as a document. The core chapters dealing with the identity formation, origin and migration and the Naga languages pinpoints the myths and realities of the Naga identity. The other chapters throw light on village polity, Morung,, Head-hunting, social structure, the Pre-British history,, Nagas and the British, Christianity among the Nagas, Naga autonomy movement,. myths, misinformation and propaganda and finally -Nagaland: the ongoing strife.

As it has happened in the case of several other communities and nations, the ‘Naga’ identity has been attributed to these tribes by others. So many explanations have been offered by experts for the usage and the meanings of this term. They are suitably described in this book. The two groups of tribes living in the plains/ valleys/ banks of rivers (Kachhar/ Cachar) and the hills/ mountains (Naga) were closely linked with each other.The tribes of the plains and valleys were known as ‘Kachharis’/ ‘Cacharis’ and the tribes of the hills/ mountains were known as ‘Nagas’. It was a pan Indian phenomenon’ There is much talk of the ‘Nag’ people and their culture in the ancient Indian texts. As there were the Naga hills, there were Chotia ( hilly) Nagpur, Nagpur and many other places with suffix of ‘Nag’. Many tribal people use the surname of ‘Nag’ and ‘Nagvanshi’ in Chhattisgarh and Madhya pradesh.

The generic term ‘Naga’ is now used  for around two dozen tribes living in  Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.. The question of identity is linked with the level of consciousness which may be true or false. In creating identity consciousness, the role of the middle class is significant. This happened in the case of the erstwhile Naga Hills  also , where some of the lower level Naga govt servants with the backing of the colonial administration and the Christian  missionaries formed the Naga Club (1918). Later, a memorandum was  submitted to the Simon Commission in the name of Nagas. Passing through  the lowest stage of clan level identity to sub-tribe , to tribe and then the Naga identity has emerged.

The formation and the cognition of identities are rooted in common descent, origin, routes of migration, legends, traditions, memories, totems, symbols and meanings. Dr. Kumar has thrown light on the process of the Naga identity formation in this book.. He has looked into the legends of the origin and descent of the different Naga tribes. There are similarities in some tribes but at the same time, there are .much dissimilarities in their origin, descent and the routes of migration. The recent emphasis of the separatist Naga  politicians of the common origin and history of all Nagas is a myth according to the author of this book.

 There are some revealing facts based on the legends  and folklore of Nagas. According to the legend of the Angami Nagas, as described by Hutton, there is the common origin of the Nagas and the Teprima (Indians p 56). According to another Angami legend, the Naga and the plainsmen are descendants of two brothers. As pointed  out by Hodson, according to the tradition of  Tangkhuls and Mao Nagas of Manipur, there is a common ancestor of Nagas, Kukks and Manipuris (p 58).

The hard work, insight and the scholarship of the author is reflected in every chapter of the book. I am confident that this book will prove to be equally useful to the students, administrators and experts in understanding the different facets of Naga society, psychology and polity.





Naga Identity*

Professor K.D. Gangrade**

Nagas are still searching for an identity. Their cultural, social, political and linguistic problems continue to clash. They are an heterogeneous group. There are internal as well as external strifes. There is a negative stereotyping. Modernization and education has awakened them. They have to come out of three kinds of scars-ancient, medieval and modern to carve out their unique identity as a community. They are located in north-eastern part of hill area of India. They can be considered as a territorial minority community. They fight for their national and international identity. Their identity is evolving and soon they may emerge as a distinct group. The main obstacle is the conflict of interest of different tribes having no unaminity amongst themselves. There may be as many as tribes as the leaves of the tree having no common origin or heritage.

Head-hunting is considered by the tribes as an honourable way of taking revenge and eliminating enemy or enemies. This is an embarrassment to any civil society. By and large, vast majority of Indian society is more comfortable with Gandhian ways to deal with such situations.

B B Kumar in his brilliant study has brought out all aspects of process of formation Naga identity critically and analytically. His indepth familiarity with the tribes has made it possible for him to clinically examine their institutions specially Morung. The Morung makes significant contribution in preparing younger generation for posts in the village council. The Morung is the club, the public school, the military training centre, the hostel for boys and meeting place for the village elders. It is as well the centre for the social, religious and political activities. In other words, it is fulcrum of the village democracies.

The derivation of the term ‘NAGA’ can be traced to the Sanskrit root meaning “Naked” or “Nag” snake or mountain. Whichever derivative we may take it aptly fits to the Nagas who love to de-corate than to clothe, their person, and are definitely snake like in their habits and behaviour. The Naga tribes differ considerably in their physical features, appearance, general characteristics, dress, ornaments, weapons, cultural and social set-up, and languages. The kind of extreme diversity among the Nagas has resulted due to mixing of a variety of ethnic elements and groups from diverse sources, during successive migration.

The present Naga identity formation is of recent origin due to: i) a common religion, that is, Christianity, ii) English Education, iii) Administrative measures such as creation of districts, and State, and iv) Economic and Development activities. The author laments that modernization has given rise to individualism. The substantial flow of funds and resources from Central Government has failed to bring desired development results to all. In fact, development has led to displacement, discrimination and discontent as well as created unprecedented opportunity for corruption. It has destroyed teamwork and brotherhood.

The intensive struggle for the Naga Autonomy Movement has been very systematically studies by the author. It has compelled the Government of India through the Constitution (thirteenth) Amendment Act in September 1962 to create the 16th State of Nagaland in the Indian Republic. It formally came into existence on 1st December, 1963. The author is highly saddened too find that media and so-called intellectuals often advocate the cause of Naga problem solving methods, strategies and techniques without fully understanding the facts and ethos of Nagas.

The author is of the firm opinion that the statehood was granted to the Nagas in a hurry without obtaining widest consensus. This has been the main cause that the Naga problem continues to defy solution. This has led to destabilization of entire North-East region. There has been a feeling that even insurgency has been funded by the funds flowing from Delhi. There is now a mounting pressure for a demand of greater Nagaland.

The author has rightly identified two difficulties in getting rid of the Naga problem: (i) lack of consensus among the Nagas, especially among the insurgent outfits, and (ii) difficulty in meeting the demands for the greater Nagaland. He also emphasizes that the policy makers should not forget that the issue in the North-East in one State is interlinked with issues in other States.

His practical approach to solution of the problem is that there should not only be fiscal input, but vigilance about their utilization. There should be internal as well as external system of “watch dog” to see that benefits reach at the grassroots level. There is a greater need to change the system of education to meet the rising expectations and aspiration of youth. The existing institutions of learning may be developed to become centres of excellence to give authentic and objective data and studies to formulate appropriate policies, plans and programmes for the region.

The foreword to the book has been written by B.P. Singh, former Home Secretary, Government of India. In his optimistic note he says: The end of insurgency in Nagaland, heralding of peace process, and launching of massive socio-economic programme in that State would release the energy of people in a constructive manner.

Just as we expect the individual to transcend his ego, similarly the State (Nagaland) must overcome it essentially in the interest of larger identity and peace. This will bring with it a cornucopia of blessings to them.

The book is an authentic and a rare document of the region both for the Nagas and Non-Nagas. This will provide a real insight and material to tackle the Naga problems.

The book consists of fifteen chapters and three annexures covering the topics such as: 1. Introduction, 2. Nagas: An Overview, 3. The Naga Identity Formation, 4. Origin and Migration of the Naga Tribes, 5. The Naga Village Polity, 6. The Naga Languages, 7. Morung Institution among the Nagas, 8. Head-Hunting among the Nagas, 9. The Naga Social Structure-Stratification, Deprivation and the Complexities, 10. Nagas: The Pre-British History, 11. Nagas and the British, 12. Christianity among the Nagas, 13. The Naga Autonomy Movement, 14. Myth, misinformation and the propaganda and 15. Nagaland: the on- going strife.

Annexures are: I) Memorandum of the Naga Hills to Simon Commission; ii) Nine-Point Understanding; and iii) Sixteen Point Proposals. Inclusion of these annexures have greatly enchanced the value of the book.

A suggestive blue-print, based on the intimate knowledge of the author, would have served as an excellent guide-line for planners and administrators interested in developing Naga Society. It is quite a task in formulation of a holistic policy and plan for a heterogeneous Naga Community. We must make all efforts to unite the community to reap the benefits of such an integration. There is no shortage of talent and leadership in the community. They have to be win away from violent way to deal with the problem in a Gandhian and peaceful manner to reap the benefits of this integration.

The author’s clarion call is to make development a means to expand human well-being and freedom to all. Our aim has to build a consensus for common action to realize this vision, and to foster a process of sustained engagement to this end by the actors themselves, including Centre, NGOs and civil society.