Naga Club Foundation Day Celebration
The Contribution of the Rengmas to the Naga Movement by Prof. Dr Glen Thomas Thong
The Rengmas were some of the earliest Nagas the British had encountered in their forays into the North-Eastern region. The first encounter of the British with the Rengmas took place when Mr. E.W. Grange, Sub-Assistant Commissioner, Nowgong met Mr. Keyhan Phukan, the ‘Rengma Warrior’ at Mohang-Dehooa in 1839. The British officer desired a meeting with the Ahom King, but the latter was reluctant to meet the official in person, so he sent Keyhan, his emissary. The Rengma Chieftain, dressed in his full traditional attire, complete with spear and dao, met the dumbfounded British officer who asked, through an interpreter, “What do you call a nightmare or ghost in your dialect?”. Keyhan simply said, “Rüme”. The officer recorded this as Rengma in his diary; ‘Nzonyu’ thus, officially became ‘Rengma’.
The Rengmas were once a major tribe occupying a vast tract of land in the present Tseminyu region of Nagaland and the Rengma Hills of Assam. The Rengma country was however, arbitrarily divided; one portion is now part of Assam. On his visit in 1870, Captain John Butler was warmly welcomed by the Western Rengmas. The Tesophenyu villagers, on the other hand, confronted the British troops led by Dr Brown on 4th Jan. 1874, which led to heavy losses; their warrior Chieftain Mr. Mithang Kath was also grievously wounded and later succumbed to his injuries in the Pansüka Tiger Cave. On 22nd Jan. 1874, the Kithagha villagers welcomed Captain Butler who was on his way to Wokha. As a goodwill gesture, Mr. Wanchung Magh, GB, presented him with 2 baskets of rice, 1 basket of eggs, 3 goats, 3 fowls, 5 jars of rice beer, 9 shawls and 9 spears. Captain Butler reciprocated by declaring Kithagha as ‘Loyal Village’ and exempted the village from House Tax.
During the 1st World War, the Naga contingent of the Labour Corps to France in 1917 included 200 Rengmas. The Naga contingent probably returned in two batches, during July-August and October 1918. The Naga Club was formed during this period (7th Jan. 1918) by some employees of the then DC’s office at Kohima. Some of the members of the Labour Corps joined the Naga Club on their return. One of the founding members of the Naga Club was Mr. Nrilo Kent, Interpreter (DB). Feeling the need to reactivate the Naga Club, a meeting was held at the Kohima Village Panchayat Hall on 7th Jan. 1982. During this meeting the 4th team of the Naga Club was elected, with Mr. Azüto Keppen as its President.
In 1928, the Deputy Commissioner of the Naga Hills, Mr. J H Hutton informed Mr. Rheichalie Pienyü, Peshkar, and Mr. Lhoutsüzo Senotsu, Writer, of the imminent visit of the British Statutory Commission led by Mr. John Simon. The Naga Club, thus, submitted the famous ‘Naga Memorandum’ to the Simon Commission on 10th Jan. 1929; one of the signatories was Mr. Rüsilo Kent, DB.
With the formation of the Naga Hills District Tribal Council (NHDTC) in 1945, Mr. P. Sentsi Kent was appointed Joint Secretary. The NHDTC evolved into the Naga National Council in 1946, where he was retained in the same position. On 19th July 1947, under the leadership of Mr. A Z Phizo and Mr. Aliba, Sentsi and others met Mahatma Gandhi to apprise him of the aspirations of the Nagas. Shortly thereafter, on 14th Aug. 1947, the leaders declared Naga Independence at Kohima. The Rengmas were represented by Sentsi, Rüsilo, Azüto and Mr. Kamvürhi at this event.
In due course Phizo married a Rengma lady, Jwenle Kent. He also met and developed a strong bond with Mr. Whenha Rengma, a prominent citizen. On February 1956, at a meeting in Thürütsüsü, Chakhesang Region, a reluctant Whenha was unanimously selected as the Federal President of Nagaland to enable hoisting of the National Flag. It was in the Rengma Region that the first Naga National Flag was designed by A Z Phizo, President, NNC. It was woven under his directive by four Rengma ladies – Keshenle Thong, Lathon Kemp, Khongale Kent and Rüso-ü Semp. The Flag was hoisted at Parashen, in the Rengma Region on 22nd Mar. 1956 by Mr. C. Thungti Chang, C-in-C, Naga Home Guard. Thereafter, at the Sanis meeting in the Lotha Region on 13th July 1956, Whenha was made the first Ato Kilonser of the Federal Government of Nagaland. On 28th July 1956, a send-off service at the Phenshunyu Village Church in the Rengma Region was held for Mr Phizo, who was leaving on a mission to represent the Naga cause internationally.
In February 1961, Mr. Riga Thong and Mr. Lothi Semy were inducted as members to the Interim Body, the de facto Legislative Assembly of Nagaland. The Rengmas have come a long way since then. With the support and blessings of various Naga leaders, and in particular the Kezekevi Thehouba and the Angami Public Organisation, the Rengmas could get the long-cherished dream, ‘Tseminyu District’, fulfilled on 20th Dec. 2021. It was inaugurated on February 2022 as the 13th district of Nagaland by the Hon’ble Chief Minister Mr. Neiphiu Rio, who dubbed it the ‘Historical District’.
Through this long journey we have seen so much of division and destruction. The Nagas have suffered tremendously, both from external forces and from within. Thus, the Rengmas too have continuously advocated for peace in the land, an elusive element in our voyage. We have too much of hatred in us, most from our past mistakes; we forget we are only human. We have stubbornly refused to forget and forgive. If we are to move forward as one people, with our heads held high, we have to acknowledge our mistakes, we have to forgive our human failings and most of all, we must stop dwelling in the past. Psalms 133:1 beautifully states, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity”. God Bless the Nagas!!!