Naga people

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Naga people
Koniak 0382b.jpg
A chief of the Konyak tribe in his traditional outfit
Total population
2 million
Languages
Kuki-Chin-Naga, Nagamese creole , English, Hindi
Religion
Christianity, Animism
A Naga warrior in 1960

The term Naga people (Burmese: နာဂ, Hindi: नागा) refers to a conglomeration of several tribes inhabiting the North Eastern part of India and north-western Burma. The tribes have similar cultures and traditions, and form the majority ethnic group in Indian states of Nagaland, with significant presence in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and some small population in Assam.

The Naga speak various distinct languages, which each belong to branches of Tibeto-Burman, including Angami–Pochuri, Ao, Inpui,Rongmei(Ruangmei), Tangkhul, Thangal, Maram and Zeme. In addition, they have developed Nagamese creole, which they use between tribes and villages, which each have their own dialect of language.

As of 2012, the state of Nagaland state officially recognises 17 Naga tribes. In addition, some other Naga tribes occupy territory in the contiguous adjoining states of Manipur, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh, India; and across the border in Burma. Prominent Naga tribes include Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Khiamniungan, Konyak, Liangmai, Lotha, Rongmei, Zeme (see complete list).

The Naga tribes practised headhunting and preserved the heads of enemies as trophies before the 19th century.[1]

Territory[edit]

The Naga tribes live in the Indian states of Nagaland, Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh and the northwestern hill tracts of Burma, such as the Naga Self-Administered Zone (formerly in Sagaing Division).

Languages[edit]

The Nagas have common language but speak languages belonging to branches of the Tibeto-Burman language group of the Sino-Tibetan language family. A language known as Nagamese creole is commonly spoken in Nagaland and adjacent Indian states. Developed from Assamese and tribal languages, it is the common language among the rural tribes.

The official language of the Nagaland state is English, which is spoken fluently by the majority of urban populations, but rarely in the tribal rural areas. There Nagamese is commonly used by villagers to communicate among the different tribal districts.Some have demanded to join Nagaland. There is periodic tension and conflicts between the tribes of Nagaland and the tribes of Manipur.

Culture and organization[edit]

The Naga people are organized by tribes differentiated by language and some traditions. They have a strong warrior tradition. Their villages are sited on hilltops and until the later part of the 19th century, they made frequent armed raids to villages on the plains below. The tribes exhibit variation to a certain degree, particularly in their languages and some traditional practices.

Similarities in their culture distinguish them from the neighbouring occupants of the region, who are of other ethnicities. Almost all these Naga tribes have a similar dress code, eating habits, customs, traditional laws, etc. One distinction was their ritual practice of head hunting, once prevalent among tribal warriors in Nagaland and among the Naga tribes in Myanmar. They used to take the heads of enemies to take on their power. They no longer practice this ritual. Today the Naga people number around 2 million in total.

The men's clothing is distinctive: conical red headgear is decorated with wild-boar canine teeth and white-black Hornbill feathers. Their weapons are primarily a spear, with the shaft decorated with red-black hairs, and the Dao, with broad blade and long handle.

History[edit]

Encounter with others[edit]

A photo of Naga taken in the 1870s

Apart from cultural contacts with the neighboring Ahoms, the rulers of Assam from 1228, the Naga had little or no contact with the outside world, including that of greater India, until British colonization of the area in the nineteenth century.

In 1828, Britain annexed Assam following the Treaty of Yandabo in 1826.[2] In the 1830s, the British sent expeditionary forces, and in 1845, the colonial power succeeded in concluding a non-aggression pact with Naga chiefs, who formerly had attacked bordering areas in Assam. But the Naga repeatedly violated the agreement, continuing to raid in Assam.[3]

After the 1830s, British attempts to annex the region to India were met with sustained and effective guerrilla resistance from Naga groups, particularly the Angami Naga tribe. The British dispatched military expeditions and succeeded in building a military post in 1851 and establishing some bases in the region. In 1878 the Angamis mounted raids on British camps. The British responded strongly, burning several rebel villages and crushing the resistance. Eventually the region came under the administration of the British.[4]

Naga Tribesmen, ca. 1905

Christian missionaries[edit]

Protestant Christian missionaries from Britain in the nineteenth century were successful in converting many among the Naga tribes. It led to them dropping many tribal customs and traditions and, along with the spread of English education, was part of the arrival of modernity in the Naga hills. The first missionary in the Naga hills is believed to be Rev. Miles Bronson in 1841, who stayed for a short period. In the 1870s, Dr. & Mrs. E.W. Clark worked among the Ao people. With the help of aMr. Godhula, an Assamese Christian, they established the first church, a Baptist one, in Molungkimong (Dekha Haimong Village) in 1872.[5]

As the tribespeople adopted Christianity, they began to develop more of a "Naga" identity, a radical departure from their distinctions based on warring tribal villages. Today, more than 95% of Naga people identify as Christians, mostly Baptist. Naga society has changed markedly from what Europeans observed 100 years ago. Christianity and the missionaries became a stronger force for change in social and cultural practices than the government.[6]

The new educational system and religion disrupted the indigenous pattern of life. But, the tribes discarded social patterns, cultural practices and traditional political set-up without finding true functional substitutes in the assimilation offered by the colonizers.[7]

Resistance and struggle for identity[edit]

The Naga hills have been an area of continued resistance as they had long been isolated from outside cultures. The development of a spirit of nationalism and sense of a common identity are relatively new concepts among the Naga people. According to their traditions, each village is an independent republic; initially, they wanted to be free from all outside domination.

Modern education together with Christian missions contributed to the politicization of Naga ethnicity began. In 1918, a group of educated Nagas (from present Nagaland) formed Naga Club. The club wrote to the Simon Commission in 1929 demanding that "Nagas should not be included within the Reformed Scheme of India"[8]

On 14 August 1947, the day before India gained independence from British rule, the Nagas were the first ethnic group from the northeast to declare their territory an independent state, not belonging to the new nation. Angami Zapu Phizo led the initial movement with the Naga National Council (NNC). In the last days of the British Raj, he held talks trying to achieve a sovereign Naga nation. In June 1947, a 9-point agreement was signed which promised to bring the Naga tribes under a single political administrative unit and recognised the Nagas' right to self-determination after 10 years. Disputes arose over the interpretation of the agreement, and many in the NNC opposed it.[9]

Under Phizo, the NNC declared their independence from the British on 14 August 1947, a day before India. In May 1951, the NNC claimed that 99 per cent of the tribal people supported a referendum to secede from India, which was summarily rejected by the government in New Delhi. By 1952, the NNC, composed primarily of Nagaland Nagas, led a guerrilla movement. India responded by crushing it with their armed forces. Phizo escaped from region through East Pakistan and went into exile to London. He continued to inspire the independence movement from there till his death in 1990.[10]

Statehood, factions and ceasefires[edit]

In 1960, the Naga People's Convention signed a 16-point agreement with the Indian government through which statehood was granted to Nagaland in 1963.

A ceasefire was signed between the NNC and the Indian government. They had six rounds of talks till 1972 with no real progress. In 1972 an assassination attempt was made on the Chief Minister of Nagaland, ending talks about independence. In November 1975, a delegation of the NNC signed the Shillong Accord, agreeing to unconditional acceptance of the Indian Constitution and surrender of arms. As the accord was condemned by many Nagas, it marked the beginning of factionalism among the revolutionaries.

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was formed in the late 1970s by Thuingaleng Muivah, Isaac Swu and S. Khaplang. The NSCN later splintered into two, when Khaplang started another group.

The 1990s were marked by fratricidal violence among revolutionary groups. In Manipur particularly, ethnic violence erupted between the Nagas and Kukis, with both sides suffering hundreds of casualties.

On 23 January 1993, the NSCN(IM) was admitted to the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO). This was seen as a means to gain international attention to the Naga cause. In 1997, the NSCN(IM) signed a ceasefire with the Indian government, and negotiations have continued.

According to the UNPO, the NSCN believes the biggest impediment to peace is the refusal of the government of India to officially extend the ceasefire to all Naga-inhabited areas outside of Nagaland.[11] Clashes continued between the Indian army and the NSCN cadre.[12]

Society[edit]

The Naga tribals have an egalitarian society. The village is a closely knit unit, consisting of intermarried households of different clans.

The village[edit]

The Naga traditionally live in villages. The village is a well-defined entity with distinct land demarcation from neighbouring villages. Each has a dialect, which fosters a strong sense of social solidarity within the village. Almost every home rears pigs, as they provide meat with little care needed. The people of the village are held together by social, economic, political and ritual ties. The villages have their own identities, but not in isolation, as there are interdependent relationships with neighboring villages. Modernization is slowly eroding the centrality of villages as a social unit, as large commercial towns are rapidly developing in every region of the Naga hills. This has brought about dramatic changes in the values, lifestyle, and social setup of the people.

The family[edit]

The family is the basic unit of the Naga society. Marriages are usually monogamous and fidelity to the spouse is considered a high virtue. Marriage within the same clan is not permitted, as it considered to be incest. Incestuous couples were previously ostracized from the villages. The family is the most important institution of social education and social control. There is deep respect for parents and elders in the Naga society. Material inheritance, such as land and cattle, is passed on to the male offspring, with the eldest son receiving the largest share. (indicating that the society was pseudo-egalitarian).

Status of women[edit]

A Yimchunger Naga woman

Naga women have traditionally enjoyed a high social position, with a pivotal role in both family and community affairs. The patriarchal society with a strong warrior tradition values the birth of boys. A Naga woman is traditionally expected to be obedient and humble. Her roles are complex and varied: wife, mother, child bearer and rearer, food producer and household manager. She supplements the household income by weaving and selling colorful shawls, an activity done exclusively by women. Women are highly respected and given a great deal of freedom; but they are traditionally not included in the decision-making process of the clan or the village.

Morung system[edit]

A Konyak Naga morung

The morung, or youth dormitory, used to be an essential part of Naga life. Apart from the family, a person's time living in the morung was the most important part of education and acculturation. The morungs were grand buildings, constructed at the village entrance or in a spot to be effectively guarded. Beginning at puberty, young boys and girls were admitted to their respective gender dormitories. Elders conveyed the Naga culture, customs, and traditions, transmitted from generation to generation through folk music and dance, folk tales and oral tradition, wood carving and weaving, to the young while they lived in the morungs.[13] Announcements of meetings, the death of a villager, warnings of impending dangers, etc., were made from the morungs by the beating of log drums. Since adopting some modern practices, the Naga have abandoned the use of time in morungs for their youths.

Headhunting[edit]

Europeans were struck by the Naga practice of headhunting. Ursula Graham Bower described the Naga hills as the "paradise of headhunters."[14] "Most villages had a skull house and each man in the village was expected to contribute to the collection. The taking of a head is symbolic of courage, and men who could not were dubbed as women or cows. There is nothing more glorious for a Naga than victory in battle by bringing home the severed head of an enemy."[15] There was no indication of cannibalism among the Naga tribes. Headhunting has been eradicated since conversion to Christianity and the spread of modern education in the region.

Transformation and challenges[edit]

The continuing changes have challenged Naga society, as traditional relations between elders and the young have been upended, as well as systems of cultural transmission. The model of detached nuclear families, as distinguished from tribal villages, is becoming widespread among the Naga people as they have greater interaction with contemporary Indian society. The clan and the village have been eroded as agents of social control.

Culture[edit]

Replica of a Naga dwelling

Art and crafts[edit]

The Naga tribes are expert craftsmen. Their dwellings are made of wood and straw and these are ornately carved and arranged. Each tribe has a unique way of constructing their huts. A common practice among all the tribes is decorating the entrances of their dwellings with the heads of buffaloes.

The Naga people love colour as is evident in the shawls designed and woven by women, and in the headgear that both sexes design. Clothing patterns are traditional to each tribe, and the cloth is woven by the women. They use beads with variety, profusion and complexity in their jewelry, along with a wide range of materials, including glass, shell, stone, teeth or tusk, claws, horns, metal, bone, wood, seeds, hair, and fibre.[16]

According to Dr. Verrier Elwin, these tribes made all the goods they used, as was once common in many traditional societies: “they have made their own cloth, their own hats and rain-coats; they have prepared their own medicines, their own cooking-vessels, their own substitutes for crockery.".[17] Craftwork includes the making of baskets, weaving of cloth, wood carving, pottery, metalwork, jewellery-making and bead-work.

Weaving of colorful woolen and cotton shawls is a central activity for women of all Naga tribes. One of the common features of Naga shawls is that three pieces are woven separately and stitched together. Weaving is an intricate and time consuming work and each shawl takes at least a few days to complete. Designs for shawls and wraparound garments (commonly called mekhala) are different for men and women. Among many tribes the design of the shawl denotes the social status of the wearer. Some of the more known shawls include Tsungkotepsu and Rongsu of the Ao tribe; Sutam, Ethasu, Longpensu of the Lothas; Supong of the Sangtams, Rongkhim and Tsungrem Khim of the Yimchungers; and the Angami Lohe shawls with thick embroidered animal motifs.

The Indian Chamber of Commerce has filed an application seeking registration of traditional Naga shawls made in Nagaland with the Geographical Registry of India for Geographical Indication.[18]

Folk song and dances[edit]

Folk songs and dances are essential ingredients of the traditional Naga culture. The oral tradition is kept alive through the media of folk tales and songs. Naga folk songs are both romantic and historical, with songs narrating entire stories of famous ancestors and incidents. Seasonal songs describe activities done in a particular agricultural cycle. The early Western missionaries opposed the use of folk songs by Naga Christians as they were perceived to be associated with spirit worship, war and immorality. As a result, translated versions of Western hymns were introduced, leading to the slow disappearance of indigenous music from the Naga hills.[19]

Folk dances of the tribes are mostly performed in groups in synchronized fashion, by both men and women, depending on the type of dance. Dances are usually performed at festivals and religious occasions. War dances are performed mostly by men and are athletic and martial in style. All dances are accompanied by songs and war cries by the dancers. Indigenous musical instruments made and used by the people are bamboo mouth organs, cup violins, bamboo flutes, trumpets, drums made of cattle skin, and log drums.[20]

Festivals[edit]

Major Naga festivals in the Indian state of Nagaland include:[21]

Festival Tribe Time Major center
Sekrenyi Angami February Kohima
Ngada Rengma November (last week) Kohima
Chiithuni Memei December/January Mao Naga
Kanghi Maramei December/January Maram
Nga-Ngai Zeliang December (last week) Kohima
Mimkut Kuki 3 January week Kohima
Tsukhenyi Chakhesang March/April Phek
Nazu Pochury July/August Phek
Moatsu Ao May (first week) Mokokchung
Aoleang Konyak April (first week) Mon
Monyu Phom April (first week) Longleng
Miu Khiamngan May (second week) Tuensang
Naknyu Lem Chang July (second week) Tuensang
Metemneo Yimchunger August (second week) Tuensang
Amongmong Sangtam September (first week) Tuensang
Tokhu Emong Lotha November (first week) Wokha
Tuluni Sumi July Zunheboto

Naga identity[edit]

The word Naga is an exonym.[22] Today, it covers a number of tribes that reside in Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh states of India, and also in Myanmar.

Before the arrival of the British, the term "Naga" had been used in Assam to refer to certain isolated tribes. The British adopted this term for a number of tribes in the surrounding area, based on loose linguistic and cultural associations. The number of tribes classified as "Naga" increased significantly in the 20th century: as of 2006, 68 tribes are classified as Naga by the various sources. This expansion in the "Naga" identity has been due to a number of factors including the quest for upward mobility in the society of Nagaland, and the desire to establish a common purpose of resistance against dominance by other groups. Some tribes, such as some of the smaller "Old Kuki" tribes have attempted to get absored into the Naga identity to increase their political profile. Some others, such as a section of Maring, consider themselves culturally distinct. In this way, the "Naga" identity has not always been fixed.[23]

The Ethnologue uses the term "Naga" to describe 34 languages in the Kuki-Chin-Naga family.[24] The Kuki of Nagaland have been classified as "Naga" in the past, but today are generally considered a non-Naga tribe. The Kuki have had good relations with the Naga in the past, but since the 1990s, conflicts have arisen, especially in Manipur. The Naga nationalists in Manipur have made attempts to expel the Kukis from their area.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Michael Fredholm (1993). Burma: ethnicity and insurgency. Praeger. p. 182. ISBN 978-0-275-94370-7. 
  2. ^ Tezenlo Thong, "A Clash of Worldviews: The Impact of Modern Western Notion of Progress on Naga Culture, 1832-1947," Journal of Race, Religion and Ethnicity, No. 2, 5 (2011): 1-37
  3. ^ Upadhyay, R. Naga Insurgency - A confusion of war or peace (Paper No. 1256, 17 February 2005, South Asia Analysis)
  4. ^ Consolidation of British Powers in the Naga Hills, Mamguis blog, Retrieved on 16 June 2009
  5. ^ Ao. Nagaland Baptist Church Council Celebrates Platinum Jubilee 1937-2012, A Concise History of Christian Missions in North East India-N. Toshi Ao 2012. 
  6. ^ Thong, Tezenlo (December 2010). "'Thy Kingdom Come': The Impact of Colonization and Proselytization on Religion among the Nagas". Journal of Asian and African Studies 45 (6): 595–609. doi:10.1177/0021909610373915. Retrieved 1 May 2012. 
  7. ^ Shikhu, Inato Yekheto (2007). A re-discovery and re-building of Naga cultural values: an analytical approach with special reference to Maori as a colonised and minority group of people in New Zealand. Daya Books. p. 77. ISBN 978-81-89233-55-6. 
  8. ^ Prongo, K. "Dawning Of Truth To Crown Indo-Naga Talks", ManipurOnline, 22 September 2002
  9. ^ Ramunny, Murkot. "The 'ceasefire with the Nagas'", The Hindu, 4 July 2001
  10. ^ Mujtaba, Syed Ali. "Nagaland peace talks still elusive", Global Politician, Retrieved on 18 June 2009
  11. ^ UNPO.org. Nagalim. Retrieved on 25 September 2009
  12. ^ Longkumer, Along. "Ceasefire Flaw or End Game?", Morunge Express, Retrieved 19 Dec 2009
  13. ^ Shishak, Dr. Tuisem A. "Nagas and Education" Retrieved 19 June 2009
  14. ^ Bowers, A C. Under Headhunters’ Eyes (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1929), p 195
  15. ^ Jamir, David Meren. A Study on Nagaland, A Theology of Justice in Cross-Cultural Mission (Lombard, Il: Bethany Theological Seminary, 1986)
  16. ^ Ao, Ayinla Shilu. Naga Tribal Adornment: Signatures of Status and Self (The Bead Society of Greater Washington. September 2003) ISBN 0-9725066-2-4
  17. ^ "Arts and crafts of the Nagas", Nagaland, Retrieved 23 June 2009
  18. ^ "Naga shawls in for geographical registration", AndhraNews.net, 7 April 2008
  19. ^ Shikhu, Inato Yekheto. A Re-discovery and Re-building of Naga Cultural Values: An Analytical Approach with Special Reference to Maori as a Colonized and Minority Group of People in New Zealand (Daya Books, 2007), p. 210
  20. ^ Mongro, Kajen & Ao, A Lanunungsang. Naga Cultural Attires and Musical Instruments (Concept Publishing Company, 1999), ISBN 81-7022-793-3
  21. ^ "Tourism: General Information". Government of Nagaland. Retrieved 2011-10-24. 
  22. ^ Christopher Moseley (6 December 2012). Encyclopedia of the World's Endangered Languages. Routledge. pp. 572–. ISBN 978-1-135-79640-2. Retrieved 8 September 2013. 
  23. ^ Arkotong Longkumer (4 May 2010). Reform, Identity and Narratives of Belonging: The Heraka Movement in Northeast India. Continuum. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-0-8264-3970-3. Retrieved 8 September 2013. 
  24. ^ Kuki-Chin-Naga, Ethnologue

Further reading[edit]

  • Alban von Stockhausen: Imag(in)ing the Nagas: The Pictorial Ethnography of Hans-Eberhard Kauffmann and Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf. Arnoldsche, Stuttgart 2014, ISBN 978-3-89790-412-5.
  • Stirn, Aglaja & Peter van Ham. The Hidden world of the Naga: Living Traditions in Northeast India. London: Prestel.
  • Oppitz, Michael, Thomas Kaiser, Alban von Stockhausen & Marion Wettstein. 2008. Naga Identities: Changing Local Cultures in the Northeast of India. Gent: Snoeck Publishers.
  • Kunz, Richard & Vibha Joshi. 2008. Naga – A Forgotten Mountain Region Rediscovered. Basel: Merian.
  • Singh, Waikhom Damodar (21 June 2002). "The Indo - Naga Ceasefire Agreement". Manipur Online (originally published in the The Sangai Express). Archived from the original on 26 May 2005. 

External links[edit]