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Views & Reviews

The Urgent Need to Reconsider Naga History

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By EMN Updated: Sep 27, 2019 12:27 am
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History can be a source of knowledge to understand the present and a guide for the future. To properly understand our present conditions, history demands that we pause and sincerely reflect on events in an unbiased manner, for it is said that we create our own history. This is to say, history is made, created, constructed. If history is constructed, then it inevitably affects how we inquire to understand some profound existential questions such as “who are we?” or “What accounts for why we are the way that we are?” For if history is indeed our creation then our present understanding about ourselves, as well as our identity, is also constructed because the source of our identity is from a history that is constructed by us.

An urgent re-examination of Naga history is required. This is essential in order not to misinterpret one’s source of origins and identity. Such a misunderstanding of one’s history may usher in a sort of identity crisis among the people, which I believe people in Nagaland are currently afflicted with. Look at how we fervently mimic foreign culture; even in arts, music, literature, we slavishly mimic foreign cultures. One will find utter lack of originality in our cultural realms, which is desperately, but in vain, trying to find its own identity and uniqueness (like our “unique history”). It is no wonder, for instance, that we acknowledged (and hence made permanent) our identity “Naga,” a derived from the Assamese word “Noga” meaning “Naked.” Today we proudly proclaim and accept that title “Naga,” which is a derogatory word used to ridicule those dwelling in the hills. Indeed, we are willing to sacrifice and bring to ruins our society for that insulting tag. It is about time that people in Nagaland seriously rethink our history, rather than blindly accepting what is been informed and instructed to us that we are thus.

We cannot understand our present context and will never find a way out of the present predicament (nationalists movement that is anything but a joke, dreadful socio-economic and political conditions, cowardice, lack of social mobility, group/tribal animosities, unrestrained corruption and nepotism, unemployment, lack of opportunity, exploitation of the helpless, and utter lack of compassion among the general public), if we are not honest with our past, our history. To romanticise history is widespread among the general public, but it is also a sign of concern. A cursory glance at world history will tell you that such romanticism is a sign of decay, a precursor to the demise of a society morally, spiritually, and existentially. It is a sign of a defeated society, who looks to the past for comfort from the anxieties of its imminent downfall. To romanticise the past is a sign of conquered society, a sign of conquered people, who can do nothing but moan at the helplessness of their present state of affairs that afflicts them like an incurable disease. To romanticise the past is to implicitly and hysterically call upon, the real or imagined, history seeking for a saviour, a saviour which the present society is incapable of cultivation (otherwise why would the society be in such a situation).

Hence, it is no wonder that most people in Nagaland, including most public/civic leaders, appeals to the past and make continuous references to the past. To this what becomes apparent is that people in Nagaland is indeed conquered. We are a conquered people, a defeated society. We are defeated and conquered by greed, selfishness, money, alcohol, tobacco, misconstrued history, an offensive term “Naga” which is not of our own making, and, most importantly, by the people of different civilisation, which is the ultimate defeat of all. We are now slaves to their beliefs, mindset, religion, morality, education. We dance to their tune. We look to them to solve our problems, to fund our numerous governments, to develop our society, and to bring civilisation to us. Look around you, it is obvious.

I have heard many in Nagaland talking about how our forefathers (or people in the past) were courageous, honest, selfless, compassionate, caring, and all the flowery virtues. This is usually made in contrast to the common idiosyncrasies of most people in Nagaland today: selfish, dishonest, corrupt, and so on. In such kinds of situations, I am quite perplexed as to how to respond to such remarks about the past since I do not know how people were in the past, they might have been either virtuous or not. I simply stay silent to such remarks. It could well be that our forefathers were not brave at all, maybe they might as well have been cowards, selfish, dishonest, tribal, clannish, and so forth. And if there is one thing history teaches us about future generation is that the future is and will be more or less the repetition of the past. This is to say, maybe most of us are selfish, dishonest, corrupt, not virtuous simply because our forefather were like us. Maybe we romanticise the past as the unsullied utopia and paradise merely out of a pure sense of despair and helplessness about our own identity and debatable history. Desperately wanting to convince ourselves that such virtuous, honourable, and upright people existed in the past, we imagine that such was the case, when we have no factual evidence to back our claim, and whatever evidence we do have suggests otherwise. Rather, we conveniently overlook those historical facts suggesting violent clashes and conflictual past not only between tribes but also among villages. Coupled this with our problematic myths of origins, which is another foundational source of our identity, and what we have here is a people or nation founded upon unverifiable historical claims. Indeed, how can people come out of stones, hole in the ground, etc.? And how can we construct our identity on such fabled claims (no matter how ‘time immemorial’ such myths may be)? The initial isolation of each tribe led to the overestimation of its antiquity which such myths of origins were intended to do. It is not surprising that we are conquered, we are defeated.

Romanticising history will not make the present problems and conundrums magically disappear. It is the ways of the cowards and defeated society to romanticise history to bring momentary relief to the pitiable circumstance they presently find themselves in. A society, a nation haphazardly built for an expedient purpose (to fight against the insurmountable power of the newly created India) by hastily bringing together isolated tribes who were not only “suspicious,” “inward-looking,” and “sensitive” by nature, but were also scarcely in good terms with each other, thus constructing a new entity ‘Naga Nation,’ can seldom find and forged its own path and identity. The answers which this society seeks for their present conundrum can only be found by re-examining the past. At least, I think, people in Nagaland are capable of realising. Nagaland is not short on cultural, political, and social historians. Every year hundreds, if not thousands, of young people in Nagaland graduate with history honours, hence I am sure such a task is not beyond our reach. What better time than now to put to use what they have learned. Indeed, what is the purpose of their degrees if they can’t even do this honourable task? I think it is time that people in Nagaland took upon themselves this arduous task of re-examining and creating our own unique history to better understand who we are, for it is only thus that we can find answers to most of the social ills and circumstances that have befallen unto us. Furthermore, how can such an invented accounts be a source of strength, unity? How can it be a guide to understanding ourselves, our present when that very history is erroneous at best?

Dr. Salikyu,
North East Christian University

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By EMN Updated: Sep 27, 2019 12:27:47 am