Naga-ness, Tribalism and precarious political dynamics of Naga Nationalism

Aniruddha Babar
Asst. Professor, Dept. of Political Science
Tetso College

“You can no longer see or identify yourself solely as a member of a tribe, but as a citizen of a nation of one people working toward a common purpose.”
~IdowuKoyenikan, “Wealth for All Africans: How Every African Can Live the Life of Their Dreams”


Tribalism is associated with the formation of the tribal identities. Tribalism can be considered as an exclusive attitude, which is associated with the sense of belonging and sense of identity in the society. Tribalism can also be considered as a very significant issue, because people with similar culture or traditions, similar language or ethnicity or even similar origin form their own tribes that significantly divide on the social levels. Tribalism also results in developing sense of pride in oneself and considering others as inferior. Therefore, it can be said that tribalism could be a social evil that can distort human relationship and unity and also human cordiality. There are many Naga tribes that seek their own place and identity and significantly affect the inter-tribal politics. Due to tribalism, the Naga tribes have been divided in the four distinct groups, who have their personal interests. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to focus on the problem of tribalism among Naga tribes, which is resulting in affecting the main motive of the Naga Political Movement.


In the context of the various Naga Tribes, their tribalism mainly originates from the identity-based self-interest. Though, tribalism as studies in anthropology and literaturehave been associated with positive aspects, such as tribalism helps in developing the sense of belonging and supports individuals in their life. Tribalism is also a matter of personal pride of being associated to community. However, in the case of Naga people tribalism can be seen from a negative aspect also, which can destroy the Naga Political Movement. Naga people are divided in different tribal identities and distinctions, and such variation is mainly based on the difference between their languages, whilst traditions and culture remain identical among them.


According to the perception of the mainland Indians, Nagas are people living in the Hilly region of the North East India and they are the part of India. However, for the Naga people, the place where they live and their tradition and culture are distinct from that of India, which gives them the opportunity of proving their nationality. However, the difference in perception of the Mainland Indians and the Naga people results in increasing their conscious regarding their own identity and also increased their curiosity to know about themselves. Therefore, the different Naga tribes looked towards proving their distinct identity on the basis of their languages and divide themselves among many tribes. The Naga people started finding the difference among themselves and started finding their identity is different from the common “Naganess”. The Nagas living outside their homeland consider to be from common background, while the Nagas living in homeland are divided on the basis of different tribes, languages and tribal hierarchies (forward tribes and backward tribes etc).


Tribalism has found to be the main reason that has divided the Naga tribes and affected their togetherness. Historically Nagas have never been united under a single political identity, moreover, their traditional lands arbitrarily divided by British Raj and later on its successor the Government of India further divided them on geo-political lines that helped political tribalism among the Nagas to grow which gradually divided the Naga tribes in four major groups, mainly Tenyimi, ENPO, CNTC and Manipuri Nagas. The Naga people are commonly those inhabiting in the North Eastern part of India and north-western Burma. However, the Naga people living in these regions have developed their own dialect of languages and some of such common languages are Poumai (Poula), Sangtam, Angami, Pochuri, Ao, Maram etc. The Naga Political Movement is significantly based on the group identity of Naga. The movement consider all the Naga tribes to be considered as one big tribe associated together on the basis of their common traditions and culture. However, the development of linguistic dynamics and the increasing awareness of Naga people towards their identity have resulted in dividing them in groups.


Tribalism is considered as the menace for the Naga National Movement because Naga National movement is about unity and togetherness to achievepolitical, social, cultural and religious freedom for the Nagas and to establish their nationality. However, due to the polarization of the different groups it would become extremely difficult to work in political cohesion. The political trust among the Naga people is very significant to keep them united. Every section in the political structures of Nagas is getting fragmented such as Sate government, NPGs and Civil Societies’ and there is absolutely no trust among the various groups. It can be said that main problem that is dividing the Naga people mainly lies in the selfish and self-centred pride of different Naga groups. It has also been identified that common Naga brotherhood, which was highly prevalent before the India gained independence and even after that, does not exist anymore.


The Naga brotherhood can be called as the “Naganess” which is now changed due to the shift in the mentality of the Naga people and different tribes. The development of the tribal hierarchies has resulted in distorting the unique Naganess. It can also be said that increasing Naga Tribalism has resulted in weakening the concept of Naga Nationalism. For the Naga National Movement, it is significant that Naga develop the oneness in their political identity. The problem of tribalism was strengthened by the colonial policies and their blind continuation since 1947 for strategicgeo-political interests. Therefore, tribalism has engulfed the whole Naga society and has affected their togetherness to a significant level.


The internal political discontent has been due to the increasing tribalism, reducing the sense of nationalism among the Naga people. Tribalism has made the inter-tribal politics to be more serious issue and the interplay of the tribal politics finds its manifestation in the Naga national movement. The inter-tribal politics have created many consequences among the Naga society. The state of Nagaland can be considered as the centralized arena for all the Naga people, but the inter-tribal relations among them are completely different. However, the development and formation of the tribe based socio-political structures and systems have become very complex. And the inter-tribal politics have increased the demand of these tribes for their tribal identity. The different tribes are looking for their own distinct identity instead of working towards forming a common Naga society. The inter-tribal politics have also resulted in the increased demand of the new tribal alliances and identities.


The conflict between the Naga tribalism and nationalism has not been resolved yet and with the continuation of the Naga tribalism, the Naga national movement will be significantly undermined. Also, the Naga nationalism may suffer from the fatal results. The political leaders have divided the tribes, which means that some of the main tribes or the dominant groups are being favoured by the political groups on political, social and economic levels, while some other tribes remain out of the league of getting any privileges. This has resulted in creating a struggle among themselves and the Naga tribes have started struggling against each other. The tribes do not understand that they are spoiling their own common identity on which their fight for nationalism is based. The greed of the tribal leaders and different organizations has become so high that they have divided the tribes on the hierarchies and distinct identities.


According to various examples from the history, it can be said that a society or movement can achieve its goals through their social and political cohesion. Dividing themselves internally will not bring success to their main purpose. Tribalism among the Naga society has been the output of the ignorance, the ignorance of undermining the nationalism over tribalism by ignoring togetherness and “Naganess” for showing their own superiority with Nagas. Tribalism has always existed in the human society, since its evolution. People are attached to their tribes, to have support, to have a sense of confidence and belonging. Therefore, tribalism has always existed in Naga society as well, but it is being used for the negative purposes that would not sought the purpose of Naga National Movement. With existing tribalism, it is significant to develop social and political cohesion. It is important for the Naga people to understand that their success lies in unity.


Encouraging tribalism for the personal interest and encouraging it on the basis of the irrational premise (such as language or origin) is not correct. All Naga tribes are interdependent on each other and they have fought for a common purpose for many decades, without highlighting their tribal identities. Therefore, the Naga people should come together as one racial group, instead of various tribes and should work towards the common purpose and desires of Nationalism. For every success, a sacrifice is required. For achieving nationalism and for supporting Naga National Movement, it is important that Naga people should come together, by giving up their own social, political and economic needs, aspirations and greed. Naga people have fought a longest battle in the history to prove themselves as a nation and the purpose of Naga National Movement is also to serve a common purpose. Therefore, it is important that negative aspects of tribalism are to be kept behind to become one nation so that the great Nagas can focus on defining their place in the world, healing their wonderful Naga-nation and putting core Conservative as well as modern principles and values into action to create a better ‘TOMORROW’.