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The Humble Beginnings of Naga Traditional Wrestling

By EMN Updated: Mar 07, 2020 11:54 pm

I take this privilege to share a brief story of the Naga style traditional way of wrestling. Ever since its inception, “Naga Wrestling” as it is popularly known, has always envisioned its wrestlers to adhere by sheer professional standards. The Nagaland Wrestling Association, which is the governing body of the sport, will be celebrating their 50th year anniversary this year. On this mark of half a century since its formation, it will be accompanied by the 27th Nagaland Wrestling Championship, the most anticipated tournament of the sport, on the 10th & 11th of March 2020 at Khuochiezie Local ground, Kohima.

I am deeply honoured to pay my humble tribute to its visionary leaders, who had painstakingly and steadfastly worked, in ensuring the enormous task of preserving and promoting the most admired traditional game of the Nagas.

 Naga wrestling is one of the oldest traditional games practised since time immemorial. The game is played to encourage fitness, health and friendship to name a few among many. It has always been known to uphold justice to whoever competed in the wonderful sport. This sport, in the past, has surprisingly been used, to even settle differences between parties during contentious disputes. Unmistakably, the game has always been celebrated for its impeccable and fierce nature of competition.

As the 27th NWA tournament coincides with the 50th NWA celebration 2020, all participants in the tournament are exhorted to participate in the sport, in a true spirit of sportsmanship. You are further encouraged to create a true and lasting friendship, amongst whom you shall wrestle during the tournament. Let’s make it a commitment to create this traditional impression with a professional attitude.

The first National level Naga Friendly-Wrestling Match was organised by distinguished leaders in 1939 & 1942 at the Naga Hospital Kohima area. It was during this time when the working site was being levelled for construction of the Naga Hospital, Kohima under the British administration. In the later years, the tournaments were organised by the NNC/ Federal Government of  Nagaland under the leadership of the NNC President A.Z Phizo, Brigadier DikhaKhupfu, Commissioner  A.K.Lungalung, Commissioner VetsosaKezo and a few other prominent leaders. All tournaments that followed suit were held on traditional style. There was no individual championships held from 1939,1942, 1947, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1969 & 1971. All these tournaments were held at Phezu and Kohima, except in the year 1965 tournament, where it was held at Shukhumei Village, Shepumaramth region/ Senapati District (Naga Manipur) organised by Japfu State, Federal Government of Nagaland, on 22nd March 1965. There was a brief hiatus in the year of 1948-1964 due to the Indo-Naga conflict.

According to the NWA records, in the 1966 tournament at PhezuJotsoma,(the present Science College, Jotsoma) the tournament was organised for the first time in the state of Nagaland (after attaining statehood) which comprised of two groups. It is learned that the Naga Manipuris were restricted to participate in the tournament by the Govt. of Manipur. Although, no substantial record proving such a claim is found.

The legitimate Nagaland Wrestling Association was formed in the year of 1969 with the leadership of Lt. WezulhiKrome, ex-MLA, as the first President of the Nagaland Wrestling Board. With the formation, the first organised tournament on the traditional style of Wrestling was conducted on 20th May 1971 at the Kohima local ground. In this tournament, wrestlers who won all bouts were declared as the best wrestlers of the year. The second tournament was organised for an individual championship, held on the 15th March 1972 at Kohima. Subsequently, Lt.VelahuPuro won the tournament as the first individual champion in the history of NWA.

With these humble beginnings, the NWA tournaments have gradually gained passionate followers and have now become one of Nagas’s most loved sport. Being now established as one of the highest anticipated events in the state which brought not only individuals, groups and tribes together, but has also placed Nagaland on the international map in the world of Wrestling. In 1976, Naga wrestlers actively participated in the National wrestling festival held at New Delhi. The first Naga –Mizo wrestling meet was held in Aizawl in the year of 1978. Following which, the second meet was held in Kohima in 1980, initiated under the leadership of President Lt. SatuoKuotsu and Gen.Secy. Mr.Keku-u Zeliang.                                                

With the association maturing, the NWA got affiliated to the Wrestling Federation of India in 1999. The NWA President, Mr.K.Puro then facilitated connections with the WFI. After which, the Wrestling Federation of India paved the way for professional Naga wrestlers to participate in its organised tournaments. Apart from the main tournament, the association also organized two Major championships under the then NWA President of Er. K.Keditsu. Namely:

1. The Naga Open wrestling championship.

2. Hornbill International wrestling championship.

In these two Mega championships, the association had liberally kept open to all the professional wrestlers from different parts of the world. So far, we have been privileged to witness professional wrestling participants from the neighbouring states of India. We have also been immensely privileged to have participants from other countries, namely Japan, USA, South Korea and the UK. In 2008,  during the Hornbill festival, the Government of Nagaland invited a Sumo wrestler team from South Korea. In the tournament, the Naga style and Ssireum (Korean style) wrestling exhibition match cum competition was held on 5th December 2008 at Kisama, Naga Heritage Village. The thrilling event gave both the audience and the Naga wrestlers alike a storming taste of professional wrestling in different styles. It is needless to say that the spectacle was thoroughly enjoyed by all parties. The northeast Wrestling association was formed under the leadership of Mr.HierangLungalung, former President of NWA in the year 2009. The N.E. Free style wrestling tournament was conducted several times and our team had brought home several Medals.       

As the Motto of the association stands, “Good wrestling encompasses brain and brawn’’, the association’s efforts go into moulding professional wrestlers and developing them to their best potential. During my tenure, the NWA arranged different measures and made sincere efforts to popularise the sport. Understanding our need to nationalise and internationalise our Naga traditional style of Wrestling, which once only remained only in the state level for the last few decades. In the year of 2016, during the event of the 25th Anniversary Nagaland Wrestling tournament in Kohima, supporters generously contributed to the NWA fund. Distinguished leaders such as the Chief Minister, Council of Ministers, MLA’s, Officers, top businessmen, contractors and individuals generously donated towards the upliftment of the sport. Through the contributions and blessings, we led the team and conveniently organised with the mainland of Indian to introduce the BELT wrestling which is closely similar to Naga traditional style and we participated National Traditional Belt wrestling Championship held at Pune, Maharastra in the year of 2016 where our team won 9 medals and brought laurel to the state.

With the affiliation to the All India Traditional Wrestling &Pantration Federation and participation with a strong team, The AITWPF leaders were left impressed and also recognized the ability of the Naga wrestlers. The first medalist in the international event was Mr.KeduovilieZümu, Bronze medalist in the Indo-Asian game in 2017 and second bronze medalist was won by Mr.NeiphretuoZhunyü in world Nomad Games in 2018 which created history for the NWA under the Presidentship of Mr.NeivikuolieKhatsu. By the grace of almighty God, the NWA is now producing many confident wrestlers where now, they can compete in the National and International level in the field Sports, like Belt wrestling, Freestyle, Pantration, Greco Roman etc.

At the present juncture of Indian Sports field activities, wrestling discipline emerges as one of the largest number of players at the international level and is undeniably a well-recognised Olympic game. According to records and reading performances of Nagaland wrestlers in action, our Naga wrestlers are in the front positions as per the readings of the later part of the 1970s and early part of 1980s in the National level.

The NWA got affiliated to the Wrestling Federation of India only in the year of 1999.

 Consequently, the performance of Freestyle and Greco Roman game had gone down after the Indian mainland come to grips with the high prospect as a life career and its facilities through sports policy provided for the sportsperson.       

The Govt. of India intensively paid heed to sports activities, providing ample of facilities with international standard equipment to talented sportsperson through state machinery project. To be fair and honest, the state of Nagaland is still far behind than many other states of India. We still lack sports facilities to execute effective training. There is no sports policy framed and implemented in Schools and Colleges. Neither there are no provisions to cater job reservations etc. It is regretful to see many talented sportspersons who diligently perform their best fail to reach their best potential due to the poor sports infrastructure of the state.

The prospects of introducing Naga style/ belt wrestling in the Olympic game is still a thin scope. We dream and pray that a day will come when this game will be included as an Olympic recognised game. Presently, the status of Belt wrestling, most of the Asian countries participate. The game is already affiliated to United World Wrestling (UWW). This brings our Naga traditional wrestling style close to the belt wrestling. The scope of our talented youth Naga wrestlers is immense. I am confident and have hopes that we will achieve high feats in all styles in the national and international tournaments.

The present status of NWA had only three affiliated Unit, Zeliang Wrestling Association / Peren District, Angami Sport Association/ Kohima District and Chakhesang Wrestling Association/Phek District. In this aspect, the NWA will be obliged if the other districts desire an affiliation as per the provisions available in the NWA constitution.

With the initiation of Wrestling Federation of India, the government of India approves wrestling as a sport which is highly recognised throughout the country. Much appreciation to the present NWA team for their tireless efforts to initiate Wrestling as a school game in the state. The under 16 years tournament is yet to be conducted for the first time. It is a great encouragement to the young wrestlers to participate in this exciting sport. The present Wrestling Academy in Kohima, I.G. Stadium has produced promising young freestyle wrestlers from different tribes of Nagaland. The Govt. of Nagaland under the fund of NEC is coming up with an Academy of Wrestling Akara at Dimapur. With all these blessings and efforts towards the game, the professional wrestlers from Nagaland have high hopes to reach the top.   

The striking NWA theme song was composed by Mrs.Vilhoukho-u Solo, in commemoration of the 25th Anniversary in 2016 which fulfilled the aspiration of wrestlers and association in particular as well as the other ardent wrestlers.

Let this coming of the 50th year commemoration be an insignia of pride for the Nagas. This is also a moment of challenge, to move forward; stronger and better.

I wish you all a wonderful and memorable Wrestling tournament ahead.

Long live “Nagaland Wrestling Association’’

Neikhrolo Khalo
Vice President
Wrestling Federation of India &
Former President & Advisor NWA

By EMN Updated: Mar 07, 2020 11:54:22 pm