Protective Thinking : Zeliangrong Naga made orphan by Naga Nationalism and What next ?
- Part 1 -

Pakinrichapbo *

I've chosen the given topic with a heavy heart for I weep for the whole Naga unity, not of the single state. Yet as days passed by, we see more sectarian tribe politics as a result of sub-tribe imperialism promoted by the influential Naga individuals supported by their respective tribe. I've stopped myself for years from penning down this article, but the complete absence of democratic spirit in the political outlook of tribes of Naga and man-made choice of tribe imperialism agendas in place of ''ONE PEOPLE-ONE VISION AGENDAS'' by almost all the sub-tribes has given me no choice.

I chose this topic to help open the eyes of good courageous Nagas to right the wrong of fellow Nagas picking on fellow Nagas based on belonging to different sub-tribes and villages. Also for the record, all self-claimed pro-Naga leaders implement wicked policies to promote the influence of their respective tribes. This further adds fuel to the already divided tribes bitterly fighting over the scare societal resources.

As long as we fanatically embrace our sub-tribe identity over Naga nationality, Naga unity will soon become a myth. If the Nagas fail to compromise on sub-tribe identity and learn to respect Rule of the law, the present trend of abuse of power by all a sundry will continue to dominate the social, political and economic live of the Nagas regardless of what form of government one lives in.

What is essential right now is to set up a "one-people, one vision" agenda by granting Naga citizenship across all the Naga inhabited areas in order to protect our interests and promote our political influence in northeast regional politics. Even if we could not achieve political and administrative integration right away, well-planned "Naga citizenship" system is one way to save us from further disintegration. Nagas can never be united unless we make a necessary compromise on our tribal identity.

Without such compromises, Naga leaders speaking against tribalism and making a call for unity in public platforms will only remain a classic act by a showman and nothing else. Seeing the way we are with full of hidden agendas, one can only fathom where Nagas are heading, even though all Naga representatives at different levels are currently on the bandwagon to solve Naga problem. Or, are they, instead, unconsciously creating another Naga problem?

After meticulously examining the available historical records and the present circumstances of the Zeliangrongs, one can conclude that the repeat of the Zeliangrong divide is happening again. However, this time, the division of the community will put them in the worst situation, where they become easy pickings for other larger tribes to be exploited for their rich and plentiful land and resources. They will face the same fate of becoming one of the worst victims of any geopolitical tragedy suffered by our fellow "left-out Nagas" scattered by the arbitrary boundaries of four Indian states and Myanmar.

Short Introduction on Zeliangrong:

Let me illustrate the problem of the Zeliangrong by citing a very brief history of its origins. This is because, as rightly mentioned by Confucius, to know the present, we should also know the past. The present Zeliangrong descended from a person named Nguibo. Later his three sons, Namgang, Rengbangbo and Kadi, became the fathers of the Zeliangrong, now living in the three states of Assam, Manipur, and Nagaland. Their dialects have evolved on the account of living separately for generations.

After the arrival of British, and with the later establishment of Union Govt. of India, the Zeliangrong were now categorized as one of the Schedule Naga tribes. Their present settlement after the traditional account of their exodus from Makhel ( Tahamzam in the Senapati district of Manipur) to Ramtingkabin (temporary shelter) and finally toward its permanent settlement at Chawangphungning (Oklong) situated at Senapati district. They then spread from Senapati districts, to Tamenglong districts and few other pockets of settlement in Songpi (Churachandpur district) as well as in the Imphal valley, to Peren, Dimapur, and Kohima districts in Nagaland and in the Dima Hasao (N.C. Hills) and Silchar in Assam.

Zeme, Liangmai, Rongmei (Maruangmai) and Puimei (Puimei is currently out of Zeliangrong fold due to unsettled differences) are named after their dialects that came at a later stage during and after the migration period from Makuilongdi. Unfortunately, the Colonial British Administration made a blunder mistake with the incorrect tribe name recognition as Kabui and Kutsa that was further corrupted to Kacha Nagas. Such creation of identity crisis on the accounts of the incorrect naming of their tribes have often led to name abuses even to this day, adding to identity crisis over division on having different preference on the usage of tribe names.

For instance, Zeme in Manipur and NC Hills Assam, they prefer to identify themselves as Zeme; whereas, Zeme in Nagaland, prefer to identify themselves as Zeliang.

On the other hand, Rongmei in Manipur, settled in Imphal valley, prefer to identify themselves as Kabui in place of Rongmei (Maruangmai); whereas same Rongmei speaking groups settled in Tamenglong, Nagaland, Silchar, and NC Hills Assam prefer to identify themselves as Rongmei.

Lastly, almost all the Liangmai in Manipur, prefer to identify themselves as Liangmai. However, Liangmai in Nagaland prefers to identify themselves as Zeliang.

Poor economic condition and dialect barriers hindrance to the Zeliangrong fraternity

What is ironic about the whole scenario is that majority of the Zeliangrong community; oppose "Zeliangrong" as their identity and fraternity. This has much to do with issues regarding the competition to get a share in state government's employment opportunities, reservations, and quotas that is further accentuated by dialect barriers and, most importantly, an insatiable thirst for occupying leadership post. Nevertheless, there are some awakened individuals, among the biased Zeme, Liangmai and Rongmei, that see things beyond their groups' interest and make sacrifices to keep the collective Zeliangrong identity alive and in remembering all the past and present sufferings and exploitations at the hands of other ethnic groups including our own Naga tribes (as Nagas have similar history of inter-village and inter-tribal conflicts).

Remarkably the fanatic emphasis on tribe identity based on their individual dialect has created havoc that has largely contributed to the disintegration of the Zeliangrong (Indeed, the same factor, dialect, has contributed to the disunity among the various Naga tribes). The negative consequence of fanatically emphasizing one's own clan, village, and dialect succeeded in breaking up Zeliangrong, the descendents of Nguibo, into pieces. Not wanting the disintegration of the Zeliangrong community, farsighted individuals are now painstakingly taking up the task of putting together the entire broken piece, in spite of stiff opposition from their own tribe.

Lost and reclaim of Zeliangrong identity

After the mass exodus from Makuilongdi and coming into contact with the neighbours, both tribal and non tribal communities up to the period leading to the establishment of British Raj, the Zeliangrong has suffered a great deal of humiliations and inhuman crime, loss of lives, lands, and uprooting of its populace from earlier settlements. Contents of Zeliangrong folksongs are full of tragedies suffered by their forefathers and such folk songs are the evidence proving that forefathers have indeed suffered a great deal.

How Zeliangrongs became an Orphan Tribe

Apart from sufferings at the hand of other communities, the Zeliangrongs too had their own share of domestic crisis generation after generation, and finally the ritual Chukthoibe/Chukhoibo/Chuksumei was performed on 1st April 1934 at Tamenglong under the banner of "Kabui Samiti" that Zeme, Liangmai, Rongmei and Puimei are one and inseparable brothers. The ritual oath was also performed to pardon the wrongs, hatred, and misunderstanding among Zeliangrong brothers since the dispersal from Makuilongdi.

Later individuals such as late Apou Namgaheng Iheilung of Benreu Village; Late Apou Huthonbo Newmai of Ntu village, both from Peren district Nagaland; late Apou Kakhangai of Imphal, Manipur; and several other key figures took initiatives in establishing a common platform to safeguard their identity and to avoid further historical blunders. Thus, the name Zeliangrong was coined in the year 1947 (the same year Nagas declared to be Independent Nation) at a non Zeliangrong ancestral settlement called Keishamthong in Imphal.

The irony is that pioneers laid the foundation of Zeliangrong identity to be a mere common platform of socio-political organization mainly due to dialect barriers. But this has further divided the present Zeliangrong mainly due to a fanatic emphasis on dialect barriers where pro-Zeliangrong consider and want to be recognized as a single tribe, while some groups see it as a mere civil organization.

And on the other extremes, some make fun of the term by considering it as an illegitimate organization where the opportunists from Nagaland, Manipur, and/or Assam manipulate by making use of the Zeliangrong platform for personal interests, though in practical reality they have no loyalty to the people. Sadly, this continues even to this day.

In 1928, after the complete subjugation of Northeast region by the British, the Naga Club submitted a Memorandum stating that Nagas desire to remain free like earlier times. That same year, Haipou Jadonang, still unknown to the majority of common Nagas, predicted that British Raj was coming to an end very soon and for his direct opposition to the British power he was hanged on 29 August 1931 at Imphal, after a biased and one-sided trial with no sufficient evidence. He is condemned by many as a heathen.

And remarkably even the Manipur govt took a u turn from its earlier stand of condemning him for the murder of the Meitei traders to veneration of Haipou Jadonang as the freedom fighter of Manipur state, after the episode of June 2001 Imphal uprising against the decision of govt of India to extend ceasefire to all Naga inhabited areas without any territorial limits with hidden interest to safeguard the Manipur Territorial integrity.

Regardless, as a great believer in principles of secularism, more weight should be given to his political insights. His bold predictions came true, for the British Raj did come to an end and he chose to oppose the British authority at the time when the whole northeast region, with exception to few pockets in Assam and other tribal belt, were in full submission to the British rule.

Jadonang was succeeded by another Freedom Fighter, Apei Gaidinliu (who was later given a symbolic title of Rani by Pt. Jawarharlal Nehru) , who was arrested and imprisoned (1933-47) by British Raj for her opposition against the British rule.

When such direct opposition was initiated against the Colonial British power, the rest of the Nagas were in full submission and in good relationship with the British and with no socio-political desire to fight against the British power again after the fall of Khonoma (1879-80).The Nagas took direct opposition only after 1954 when Nagas felt betrayed by the British (how can we trust an imperialist power who traditionally think more for themselves; after all, that's how they succeeded in becoming an imperialist power in the first place) for their silence on Naga political aspirations. Certainly, this is one of the first errors in the political judgment made by the Naga Nationalists.

My analytical side sometimes makes me ask where Nagas would be today, had the Nagas launched a united movement by 1928 to create a free Naga state/nation (for a state cannot be given as a gift, but can only be created by the people). But the present Nationalists, including the Naga public (50 and above age groups), still hold on to the notion of receiving a free Naga nation as a gift from the GoI with the help of a divine intervention.

Speaking bluntly Nagas were saved and are in existing today because of the "scheduled tribes" status in the Indian Constitution (on sole account of starting the political movement). For I fear, that the moment Nagas are left on our own, all the tribes will resort to the olden days of deadly clashes over numerous land issues and disputes for power. The arrival of colonial British power saved the Nagas, and the later intervention of GoI saved more lives from the lawlessness where law of the jungle prevails till today.

Many may oppose such views, but we shall not be blinded, because even after 70 years of Naga declaration of independence, tribalism, factionalism, and power struggle and abuse of power by nationalist from the lowest to the highest ranks dominate day to day life. In matter of power abuse and power struggle, state elected representatives (politicians) are not exempted, they are in the same category with the nationalist groups.

In such chaotic political situations aided by crude federalism structure augmented by the primacy of tribal identity made the politically blind Zeliangrong Naga to lead a life of an orphan; while, at the same time, heavily indulging in regional politics with their own brethren as they have no fatherly figure to guide them. And to make things worse, the Zeliangrongs have no idea what is in store for them post final settlement to the Naga solution.

To be Continued...

* Pakinrichapbo wrote this article for
The writer is an Advocate from Samziuram Village, Peren, Nagaland and can be contacted at pakinchawang(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on June 06, 2018.

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