To the east of Assam is the small state of Nagaland with its colourful and fiercely-independent warrior tribes. This picturesque, narrow strip of mountainous territory covers an area of 16, 579 sq km. Kohima is its capital. Nagaland became the 16th state of the Indian Union on December 1, 1963 and has a population of 1,209,546 (1991 census).
Among the smallest states in the country, it is located on the eastern frontier of India, bounded by Assam on the west, Myanmar on the east, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam on the north and Manipur on the south.
The state has a rugged topography with wide spurs and ridges. The highest peak is Saramati, which is 3,840 metres high and located in the Patkai Range in Tuensang district, followed by Japfu, which is almost 3,000 metres high and is near Kohima in the Barail Range. The climate varies from the sub-tropical to the temperate. The average winter temperature dips to below zero degrees Celsius.
History and people
The 16 major tribes inhabiting this small state speak a number of languages including Ao, Konyak, Angami, Sema and Lotha, and a mix of Assamese with the local language called Nagamese. They are said to belong to the Indo-Mongoloid stock, a race whose presence was first noted 1,000 years before Christ. Sanskrit literature describes them as kiratas or hillmen “living on Nature?s gifts, warlike and possessing formidable weapons”.
The ceremonial dress of each tribe is fascinating – the multi-coloured spear, ceremonial machete, bracelets, chest plates and head dress of coloured bamboo included. Each tribe takes pride in the distinguishing colours and patterns woven in their shawls. They have a rich repertoire of songs associated with different occasions. The most popular ones eulogise ancestors, warriors and traditional heroes. The Nagas have a passion for dance and festivities.
The Nagas who live both in Nagaland and in neighbouring Manipur, have stepped into the 20th century, with roots in their traditional culture. Smartly groomed men and women wear Western clothes which would go well with the fashion conscious in other parts of the world.
The Naga insurgency is the oldest in the Northeast. It even predates Indian Independence: the Naga Club had petitioned the Simon Commission in 1929 urging the British government to accept the Nagas? right to self-determination. The Naga National Council, the representative body of the Naga communities, declared ?independence? on August 14, 1947. The movement turned militant in 1953 and soon afterwards the Army was called in. The then Naga Hills district and today?s Nagaland state has since witness security forces battling Naga militant groups.
The history of the Naga issue has been one of failed negotiations, short-sighted accords and dubious pacts. The Hydari Agreement of 1947 was the most controversial due to the presence of an ambiguous clause which implied that the Nagas would remain with India for a period of 10 years following which they would be free to choose their own course of political freedom. The 16-point Agreement of 1960 was essentially meant to tackle insurgency by laying ground for the Naga Hills to become Nagaland state in 1963. A ceasefire was signed in September 1964, and six rounds of talks were held between the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the Naga National Council delegation. The talks fell through and hostilities were resumed. The Shillong Accord signed in 1975 was viewed by the militant wing as a surrender by a section of the rebels. Though AZ Phizo, the father of the Naga movement, himself was not a signatory, he was criticised for not opposing it by the hardcore group of Isak Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah and SS Khaplang who formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980. The NSCN split in 1988 with Swu and Muivah leading one group and Khaplang the other.
The state?s agricultural economy consists of wet rice cultivation in the plains and terraced cultivation in the hilly slopes. The soil is acidic and rich in organic matter but poor in phosphate and potash content. However, the state abounds in medicinal herbs.
Cane and bamboo baskets, wood carvings with intricate designs, colourful jewellery crafted out of glass beads, ivory, brass and shells are examples of fine workmanship. Naga weavers produce works of art with intricate designs on shawls and sarongs. The traditional arts are handed down through the generations, with each major tribe displaying unique designs on colourful shawls.
Among the most famous historic spots in the state is the Kohima War Cemetery to remember the supreme sacrifice made by the officers and men during World War II. The epitaphs are moving and at the base of the main memorial, the inscription reads :
When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today
Apart from this powerful testament to valour, there are many other places to see and sights to savour. Khonoma, Phek, Dzukou Valley, Japfu, Wokha, Dimapur, Mokokchung and Zunheboto offer excellent mountain vistas and a look at the Naga way of life. The pride of Khonoma village is the traditional carved gate which leads up a flight of steep stone steps and on to the highest point in the village. It was here that Angami warriors made their last stand against the British in 1879.
The State Museum at Kohima too presents glimpses into the tradition, culture and lifestyles of the Naga peoples. Intanki Sanctuary, Puliebadze Sanctuary and Fakim Sanctuary on the other hand boasts of a variety of faunal and avian species, besides myriad flora. To name a few, elephant, sambar, barking deer, goral, flying squirrel, wild dog, sloth bear, the rare kaleej pheasant, hornbill and black storks are some of the denizens of the forests of Nagaland. The near-extinct Blythe Tragopan can be found in Phek district.
Entry formalities for Indians include Inner Line Permits (ILP) to be acquired from the Resident Commissioner or any Liaison Officer under the Government of Nagaland in New Delhi and the other cities like Kolkata, Guwahati and Jorhat. Visitors should contact the state Department of Tourism or the district administration concerned for reservations in guest houses, hotels, circuit houses and dak bungalows.