Dr. Esther Konyak
A study of human interaction with the natural world or, in other words, the interaction between culture and nature deepens our understanding of how we have been affected by the natural environment in the past, and also how we have affected the environment and with what results. How did this interaction between nature and culture work?
In the Naga historical and cultural context, traditional knowledge and wisdom ensured a mechanism for ecological balance and sustainability. The Naga life was closely intertwined with nature. Beginning with our habitat to our lifestyles to our culture and our agricultural activities, it was all in harmony and balance. Naga life was coterminous to the cycle of nature.
This intricate relationship formed the basis to uphold a respectful and nonviolent relationship with nature. Naga traditional institutions such as the clan system, folk culture, taboos, etc provided a framework for resource utilization and protection. Storytelling, theatre and folktales were the cultural means that informed us of the ethical and moral values needed for sustaining a harmonious and symbiotic relationship with our environment and ecology. The folktales narrate stories of human relation with nature, animals and birds. All of these fell within the human responsibility to protect and uphold nature.
Hunting, fishing and food gathering were common practices. However, the means to attaining these benefits were traditional and it guaranteed the sustainability of the resources. For instance, the Konyak Nagas resorted to resources provided by the forest vegetation for fishing. This did not contaminate or leave residue on the fish, water and the forest. The forest provided everything they needed and hence a profound interdependent relationship existed between humans and nature. Traditional knowledge of plants and their properties and the effective appropriation of this knowledge was a powerful tool in maintaining a healthy and balanced environment.
The very identity of a Naga is rooted to land and culture. The loss of land is seen as loss of identity, an alienation from nature. With this strong sense of connection, the protection of land and forest was both conscious and culturally internalized. Therefore, the belief that as “land belonged to the human, the human belonged to the land” was a strong ethical and moral foundation of everyday Konyak life.
Such was the traditional wisdom with which the Konyak lived harmoniously with nature. Today, the modern Konyak is fast losing the intimate relationship with mother earth. The displacement of people into urban areas, rapacious industries and businesses, abandonment of agricultural practices are some indications of this loss.
One of the basic and fundamental tools of understanding the gravity of this ecological issue is through education and awareness. Both rich and poor, urban and rural have access to education today. The process of education is crucial to understanding that we as human live “in nature” and not with nature. The “I Love My Mon Town” (ILMMT) Campaign initiated by the Mon District Administration on October 2, 2016 is one such powerful medium that spearheads the drive for ecological balance.
It is a campaign that belongs to the people of Mon. It is a campaign to bring people from different walks of life with a sense of urgency and responsibility with the hope to aspire and bring about change through education. The real challenge is to foster a new consciousness, a sense of responsibility and the ILMMT is an exemplary platform taking this ecology movement to the schools, the church and the village.
Nagas need to adapt and adopt traditional knowledge and judiciously utilize resources as we respond to the growing needs and demands. Places like Mon can be made a Green Corridor. This means that every village will have a reserve forest which connects each other whereby animals and birds from Assam and other states will have a passage all the way to Myanmar.
The vision of a shared Naga future is complete only when Nagas recover and rebuild our interdependent relationship with nature, land and culture. It needs to begin with a deep sense of social responsibility.
Dr. Esther Konyak got her Ph.D from Jawarharlal Nehru University, Delhi. Esther studied Pre-Colonial Eastern Bengal Frontier and Environmental Studies.
She currently teaches History at Wangkhao College, Mon.