NAGAS IN MYANMAR: PEOPLE OF THE FORGOTTEN LAND

NAGAS IN MYANMAR: PEOPLE OF THE FORGOTTEN LAND

Eno Athong Makury
President, Council of Naga Affairs

 

Introduction:
Nagas alike many other indigenous peoples across the globe are known for the attachment to their land and they understand their land in terms of their ancestors, culture, life, their very existence and future. The uniqueness of Naga people is also well acclaimed by the outsiders who have learned about the Naga culture. It is also known that the ancestral homeland of Naga people is historically 120,000 sq km altogether but many Nagas of the present day seem to have succumbed to the divisive policies of the external forces who try to overturn the unique nature of Naga people and their land, and began to claim that Nagas are confined only in 16,000 sq km. When we talk about Nagas through the lens of Naga ancestral homeland, Nagas in Myanmar who are popularly known as People of the Forgotten Land, occupies a landmass which is actually larger than the land area left under India-occupied Naga homeland. Naga homeland under Burma occupation is also once known for safe haven it provides to the Naga national leaders who were hunted down like criminals by the Indian and Burmese military regimes.

 

The ancestral homeland of Naga people under Myanmar occupation begins with the Kebaw Valley in the south, reaches the Three Hills in the east and Tanai on the north bordering to Kachinland. Anal, Khiamniungan, Konyak, Lainong, Lamkang, Makury, Moyon, Para, Tangkhul (also known Somra Tangkhul) and Tangshang are some of the tribes living in Eastern Nagaland. But according to the notorious 2008 constitution of Myanmar, the Naga territory is only confined in the hill areas which cover Layshi and Lahe and Namyun Township and christened as Naga Self-Administered Zone by the Government of Myanmar without the consent of Nagas. Khamti and Homalin deposited with jade and gold were also very much part of Naga homeland. The stories and folklores of Kebaw Valley, Khamti and Homalin have become fairy tales for Nagas. However, loss of ancestral land for Nagas is a common phenomenon either in India or in Myanmar. The tall legacy of our ancestors has become a myth for the present day Nagas everywhere.

 

Hope and Possibilities:
While Nagas live under the Myanmar administration, they have not forgotten their kith and kin wherever they may be. Our hope to live as one is real and possibilities are plenty for us if we will. However, our hope needs to be worked out by ourselves and possibilities need to be created by ourselves, all of us. In the past, we understood our hope and possibilities in terms of politics but along with the changing scenario we need to also see them through the lens of social and economic aspects without forsaking the political aspect.

 

Why the Need to Reconnect? In retrospection, Naga people, alike other nations of the world today, have lived in our own system and culture that define identity as a People. Neither have we nor our homeland ever been a subject to any outside force. The Naga peoples enjoyed the purest form of democracy and freedom in the form of village republics, a watertight realm untouched by the outside world. We heard the stories, which are passed down to the latter generations and narrated by the elders to us how the Nagas of those days had defended their homeland from the invasions of Tai-Ahoms, Burmese, British or any established kingdom. Though we unfortunately had to compromise 30% of our homeland to the British forces for a time being, the rest of ours remained as before.

 

After the India and the Burma independence in 1947 and 1948 respectively, Nagas in their sincerity and naïve nature thought their homeland would remain with the freedom they enjoyed in the past as the British colonial government was leaving this part of the world. But the hopes and dreams of Nagas turned opposite and the Nagas without a reason began to experience the nightmare that has been traumatizing the Nagas till date. Boundary line was drawn in the heart of our homeland without our consent and further borders were made within our ancestral homeland without the knowledge of the owners. The British people, who are considered accountable for the divisions of our homeland and people and, whom we offer our utmost loyalty that delivers them the biggest victory of epic battle in their history have now turned a blind eye to our cause and beyond our imagination we are further in coercion divided in the hands of India and Myanmar into states, regions and so on. And we continue to suffer denial of justice and no explanation is delivered till date. The action of the British colonial government giving away our homeland to foreigners is grossly unfair and illegal because she cannot give something away, which she did not own. This is an open injustice meted out against the innocent Nagas, which cannot be justified legally, politically, historically and socially. Our struggle to come as one is just and noble.

 

Challenges and opportunities in our path:
After the departure of the British colonial government from the Naga soil, India and Myanmar (Burma) became our rulers who continue to perpetrate violation of our rights by imposing alien laws upon the Nagas. Thus divide and rule policy, the rotten legacy of the British colonial government, adopted by India and Myanmar has continued more than 6 decades. Our oneness is threatened politically, socially, economically, academically and culturally. Jeopardizing the very fundamental rights of Nagas, they are further using every means to redefine our history and unique culture.

 

Unfortunately, many of us have fallen prey of the external forces who divides us. Thus, innocent Nagas are wedged with their ideologies and philosophies. Not only external challenges but also internal challenges are seen as a major roadblock to our path to reconnecting the Nagas across the borders and boundary. It is very sad to see that a section of Nagas has risen from our own fold against our common hope, a shared future at the expense of our birthright and these pseudo-intellectuals have committed treacherous actions detrimental to the very unique existence of ours. They are fooled by the aliens who never want to see Nagas coming together under one umbrella by reconnecting each other. They have education and degrees but they have become the mouthpieces of their paid-masters and they are no more representing the true voice of the Nagas. They have successfully become the stooges of alien forces who dictate them from their armchairs in Delhi and in Naypyidaw and by advocating the plain lies they continue to carry out their evil schemes for a bowl of stew at the cost of our historical rights. Consequently, many young minds have been swept away and our beautiful society suffers from chaos and blurs future. However, we must realize the fact that these forces cannot guarantee the well being and safe future of our peoples. Depending on other for our fate is a pity! It is also a reminder to us that we will never know a complete meaning of our being, if we don’t learn to stand on our own feet!

 

There are times that the Nagas from all sections genuinely believed and worked for our common belief and aspiration. But at this point of time, either Naga National workers or political parties that emerge from within the Naga society do not much consider the importance of reconnecting and reunification of all the Nagas; they are rather more for their power hunt. It seems each working for its own ends and lofty pride by jeopardizing the common future of the Nagas. Their actions are a proof that they don’t walk their talk truly. Yet, I believe that it is still never too late. We have experienced in our history that the strength, which comes from the united Naga house is indomitable, invincible and unbeatable.

 

It is true that Naga society is a democratic one by nature. Captain John Butler, of the British Royal Army, who came to Naga country in latter part of 19th century observed, “Every man [Naga] follows the dictates of his own will, a form of the purest democracy which is very difficult to conceive of as existing even for a single day.” In other words, we live a society that enjoys the carefree form of natural freedom, which can be found very rarely on the face of the earth. Butler’s statement can be interpreted in two ways: one may mean we are democratic by nature and freedom loving, and the latter may mean a people with lofty pride, who do not want to bow. To this, Frans Welman, General Secretary, Naga International Support Centre also has observed it correctly, “Nagas are a proud people, proud of their culture and identity.” As we look at our prevailing situation of the Naga society, which suffers from disunity and mushrooming factions and groups, we cannot simply by-pass the effect of misconceived pride and misplaced loyalty. It is pain to see that these evils have damaged our society and our natural freedom is being sacrificed on the altar of these evils. A society, which is divided and corrupt, unless it overcomes the barriers, can never be truly reconnected.

 

Another serious setback to our path to reconnecting each other is ignorance. In the past, the Nagas were very good at narrating the folklores and passing down the stories to the latter generations. The narration of folktales and stories is our traditional practices that connect us between the past and the present, and one community to another. But now, a number of Nagas are emerging without knowing the origin and culture – the root that actually makes who we are and what we are. The ignorance of our origin leads to another ignorance among our own brothers and sisters; though we are one as Naga, we begin to ignore each other. Ignorance germinates discrimination and ism among us. In our society today, it is really sad to see one claiming superior to another as inferior or a particular state or region claim bigger than the other. The people who created borders and boundary among us without our consent must be clapping hands from their armchairs. Yes, the pain of discrimination is severe but more severe it is when it comes from within and close ones. If we go on this way, we will never see a shared future; we will rather succumb to these narrow attitudes and the sacrifices of tens and thousands of Nagas of the past will become meaningless in our hands. I believe, a proper curriculum on Naga studies would be the basic to solve the problems in reconnecting the Nagas from across the Naga-inhabited areas.

 

Though there are forces existing in and around us against our common future, our Naga society is still blessed with the true sons and daughters of the soil, who believe in our common hope, a shared future. Today, let this NSF general conference be a proof that we are determined to work on fulfilling the task passed down to us by our forefathers. As we bridge the gap between us for a closer tie to be one as before, the kind of conference like today is one of the effective means for us. Cultural exchange programs organized by the Naga frontal organizations can make a better platform where all the Nagas from across the Naga inhabited areas can participate and share their experiences and hopes. I believe, at least once a year, there should also be formal gatherings where Naga CSOs and other stakeholders can come together to join hands for a common future by reconnecting each other. As and when we are reconnected emotionally, we will be able to connect each other in stronger way. As we grow mature and determined, there should be no space for ignorance and discrimination among us, thereby overcome barriers that stands as stumbling blocks. Helping the weak is our traditional practice and it is still a blessing to help the weak among us and grow together in one spirit. As most of Nagas claims to be Christians, the spirit of Christ should be portrayed in all doings. And the adherents of other faiths should also practice the nobles that each faith has.

 

Today, the changing political scenario in Myanmar has interested the International Community in many aspects and the presence of the International Community here in Myanmar is warmly felt at this point of time. We the Nagas have been maintaining our lofty position and isolating ourselves from other peoples around us. But I think, it is not too late for the Nagas to engage in these changes so that we can keep ourselves updated. Change is the essence of being and it is a global phenomenon and for which Nagas are no exception. We should not miss the opportunities that come out from these changing trends around us. For example, the blooming economy of the ASEAN family is alarming in terms of trade and business. We have been ignorant of the opportunities that lie at our doorstep and this time we have to make use of them. Because the prevailing situation reminds us that economic sector is one of the fundamentals in reconnecting the Nagas from all the regions. Our traditional society was an independent one that stands self-reliant but very sadly today many of us become dependent on other. We do not realize that we can be also a great contributing partner to our neighbors around us. In order to boost our economy, I believe, transportation, communication, international trade routes and trade centers should be set up across the Naga inhabited areas. The existing projects on these matters must be implemented and materialized as soon as possible. I hope, our concerned governments should be more active in materializing activities in the sectors that are important in reconnecting the Nagas in a meaningful way. The Nagas from all sections also should look into these matters very seriously instead of wasting time on bickering, infighting and isms among us so that our cherished goal will be achieved not just emotionally or artificially but practically and meaningfully. I hope and believe that our dreams will come true if we truly believe and work on it. Kuknalim!

 

This article is contributed for NSF Souvenir released on the NSF 27th General Conference held at Tziirangkong from 30th May – 2nd June, 2017.



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