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Nagaland - History

Nagaland emerged as a State, out of the Naga Hills district of Assam and NEFA province, in 1963. This late start meant that the State lost out on the benefits of the first three Five Year Plans. What is more, the State has had to confront insurgency on a continuous basis, committing much of its scarce resources to administrative and related expenditures. Though Nagaland has been confronted with special constraints and challenges in the areas of politics, economics, geographical terrain, and development, especially of infrastructure, the ‘social capital’ and resilience of the Naga village communities are not only giving hope but also beginning to help overcome the other difficulties.

The early history of the Nagas is sketchy. Ancient Sanskrit scriptures mention Kiratas, golden skinned people of the sub-Himalayan region, with distinct culture, who migrated from their original home to the Himalayan slopes and mountains of the East. Another view is that the Nagas belong to the Mongoloid race, and they migrated and settled in the north-eastern part of present India and established their respective sovereign village-states although when they came and how they came to their present habitations are still unsettled questions.

The only things that are clear is that all the tribes say their ancestors came from the east and that they were settled in the area before the arrival of the Ahoms in 1228 AD.

The Naga's have different stories about their origin. The Angamis, Semas, Rengams and the Lotha's subscribe to the Kheza-Kenoma legend. It is said that the village had a large stone slab having magical properties. Paddy spread on it to be dried doubled in quantity by evening. The three sons of the couple who owned the stone used it by rotation. One day there was a quarrel between the sons as to whose turn it was. The couple, fearing bloodshed, set fire to the stone which as a result cracked. It is believed that the spirit in the stone went to heaven and the stone lost its miraculous properties. The three sons thereafter left Kheza-Kenoma, went in different directions and became the forefathers of the Angami, Sema and the Lotha tribes. According to another legend, to which the western Angamis subscribe, the first man evolved from a lake called Themiakelkuzie near Khonoma. The Rengmas believe that until recently they and Lothas formed one tribe. The Aos and the Phoms trace their origin to the Lungterok (six stones) on the Chongliemdi hill. Some people believe that these Indo-Mongoloids are 'kiratas' frequently mentioned in the old Sanskrit literature of whom 'Nagas' were a sub-tribe.

Even the origin of the word ‘Naga' is yet to be settled finally. Many scholars have made an attempt to define the word ‘Naga’. A popularly accepted view is that it originated from the Burmese word ‘Naka’, meaning people with earrings. It is believed that as the British came to this part of the country through Burma and asked questions about the people living therein, the reply of ‘Naka’ from their Burmese guides was recorded as ‘Naga’, and thus used subsequently.

In the years before Indian independence, the Nagas of North-East India came to exemplify an exotic society. People of the hills, radically different in culture and beliefs, were renowned for their fierce resistance to British rule and their past practice of head taking. Their frequent raids into the plains of Assam prompted the British to penetrate into the dense forests of Naga Hills in the nineteenth century to establish their control over the region.

The first Europeans to enter the hills were Captains Jenkins and Pemberton, who marched across the land in 1832. The early British relations with the tribes were one of perpetual conflict. Between 1839 and 1850, 10 military expeditions were led to the hills, to explore the region, punish the Nagas for their raids and to establish British control. The policy of military expeditions and involvement in Naga affairs was changed after the bloody battle at Kikrüma in 1852 and the British adopted a policy of non-interference with the hill men. However, this policy did not bear fruit. During 1851 to 1865 there were persistent raids by the Nagas on British subjects in the plains.

Therefore, the British India Government, reviewing its earlier policy, in 1866, decided to form a new district, with its headquarters at Samaguting, present Chümukedima. Establishment of the British post at Samaguting was a landmark in the history of British-Naga relations. It signified the Government’s determination to control the Nagas effectively. Captain Butler, who was appointed to this charge in 1869, did much to consolidate the British presence in the hills. These advances were resisted by the tribesmen. In 1878, the headquarters of the district was transferred to Kohima with the objective of effectively controlling and influencing the Naga Hills.

During 1879, Political Officer Damant was determined to control the powerful village of Khonoma. He marched on to Khonoma with his troops, where he was shot dead with 35 of his escorts. The whole countryside then rose and proceeded to besiege the stockade at Kohima, and the garrison was under severe attack before it was relieved. The subsequent defeat of Khonoma marked the end of serious trouble and hostility in the Naga Hills. Between 1880 and 1922, the British consolidated their position over a large area of the Naga Hills. Those Nagas who still remained outside British administration were referred to as ‘Free Nagas’ in the ‘Unadministered Areas’. These ‘Free Nagas’ included the tribes now living in Mon and Tuensang districts of present day Nagaland.

During the Great War, the British mobilised Naga tribesmen into the Allied Labour Corps and sent about 2000 Nagas to France. This was the first time that Nagas from different tribes stayed together in close proximity under war conditions, far away from home. Their exposure to the West strengthened their feeling of `collective separateness’ as well as the belief that they were not inferior to anyone else. On their return from France, in 1918, some of these veterans formed the Naga Club in Kohima, which later played a pivotal role in the organised search for a common Naga identity.

As a turning point of World War II, the Battle of Kohima has often been compared with Stalingrad in Europe and El Alamein in the desert because it was in Kohima that the Japanese advance was finally halted. The battle of nearly three months was bitter and the Nagas played a decisive role in turning the tide of the battle by gathering intelligence, providing guides, carrying loads, capturing the enemy and even sacrificing their homes by burning to deny them to the Japanese forces.

On March 6th 1944, the Japanese had launched their U-Go offensive from northern Burma. U-Go had two objectives: to prevent the Allies from retaking Burma and to break into India. The Japanese were confident of victory, but were soon to be taught a terrible lesson. The immediate gateway to India, at the time, lay through Imphal but Kohima, 130 miles (210 km) to the north, with its railhead at Dimapur, could prove even more strategically important to reach the mainland.

The British were aware of the Japanese thrust. But even they were surprised by its initial speed. By April 4, the Japanese had not only entered Kohima, through the east, but also cut off the only link road to Imphal. It seemed that Kohima, on its saddle ridge, was the last barrier for the Japanese forces before they reached the plains.

Unfortunately for the Japanese forces, due to differences of perception of strategic importance of Imphal and Kohima, between General Sato and General Mutaguchi, his immediate superior, General Sato was forced to order withdrawal of his forces from Kohima on May 31. Decimated by fighting, disease and hunger, Japanese soldiers still fought a valiant withdrawal. Only 20,000 of the 85,000 Japanese who had come to invade India were left standing. The cost to the Allies had been 17,857 British and Indian troops killed, wounded and missing.

When India won independence, the Naga Hills was a district in the State of Assam. The Naga People’s Convention in 1957 proposed the formation of a separate administrative unit by merging the Tuensang Frontier Division of the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA—present Arunachal Pradesh) with the Naga Hills district of Assam. The Government of India accepted this proposal and on December 1, 1957, the Union Government took over the administration of Naga Hills district of Assam and Tuensang division of NEFA to form a separate administrative unit called ‘Naga Hills–Tuensang Area (NHTA)’.

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Page last modified: 19-02-2018 14:42:34 ZULU