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Naga Anthropology and Kinship Systems of northeast India
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NAGAS –AN INTRODUCTION
By NAVA KISHOR DAS   
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Last edited: Friday, January 11, 2013
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ABSTRACT- In ethnographic monographs of tribes of northeast India in post-independence era- we invariably witness faulty and loose application of such terms as ‘tribe’ ‘ethnic group’ clan, lineage and descent. Indeed even in the broader Indian ethnographic literature very little attention is paid to the ‘descent theory/segmentary model’ in portrayal of tribal/non-tribal societies. According to the descent theory, the descent groups are the primary element behind the social structure. Equally ‘misunderstood’ is the theme of the phenomenon of ‘cognatic’ (or bilateral) kinship-system, which is often the prime moving principle in tribes of northeast India. This is a shorter version of the paper titled ‘People’s Perception, Segmentary System and Tribeship in Naga Hill Areas’, authored by N K Das, PhD, Deputy–Director (former) and Visiting Fellow (Anthropological Survey Of India, Kolkata ) in the book- The North-East India- The Human Interface, Edited by Raha ,M.K. and Aloke Kumar Ghosh (1998 ) Gyan Publishers, New Delhi.

NAGAS –AN INTRODUCTION

 

Basic Ethnography and Kinship systems of Naga tribes-

 

BY N K DAS,

VISITING FELLOW, ANTHROPOLOGICAL SURVEY OF INDIA, KOLKATA

 

Naga Ethnography and Kinship systems of Naga tribes-

 

In ethnographic monographs of tribes of northeast India in post-independence era- we invariably witness faulty and loose application of such terms as ‘tribe’ ‘ethnic group’ clan, lineage and descent. Indeed even in the broader Indian ethnographic literature very little attention is paid to the ‘descent theory/segmentary model’ in portrayal of tribal/non-tribal societies. According to the descent theory, the descent groups are the primary element behind the social structure. Equally ‘misunderstood’ is the theme of the phenomenon of ‘cognatic’ (or bilateral) kinship-system, which is often the prime moving principle in tribes of northeast India.

 

 

The Nagas, who have come to acquire the status of a regional community in Northeast India, are divided into several ‘Tribes’ and they are distributed in contiguous areas of Nagaland, Manipur and Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar. Though all Naga tribes share to a certain degree, a common core of socio-cultural traditions and material traits but individual tribes and their major sub-tribal sections have their unique social and politico-jural institutions, besides their own dialects. Indeed, the Naga as a whole do not form one homogeneous ‘tribe’, but rather a constellation of several tribes, each living in its own tribal territory. Some seventeen Naga communities are generally recognised at official level in Nagaland. Seven Naga tribes are recognised in Manipur and three Naga tribes traditionally live in Assam. This ethnic categorisation is anthropologically unsuitable particularly because of the people’s own cultural perception; and ethnic categorisations do not match with official nomenclature in several cases. We may cite a few examples. The subtribes such as the Tikhir, Chirr and the Makware resent that they have been placed under the Yimchunger Naga tribe. Then there are tribes like the Zemi and Liangmei (both commonly recognised as a single tribe ‘Zeliang’ in Nagaland), the Rongmei and Puimei found scattered in Nagaland, Assam and Manipur who want to be recognised popularly as a single tribe called ‘Zeliangrong’, but actually are not recognised as such officially. Rather they are bifurcated and recognised as the Zeliang and the Kabui in Nagaland, as the Kocha Naga and the Kabui in Manipur and as the Jeme and the Kabui in Assam. The Zeliangrong is an acronym of three Naga tribes, the Zemei, Liangmei and the Rongmei. The Pochury remained a part of the Chakhesang Naga tribe till recently (Das 1994a). Our approach here is to elucidate processes of cultural differentiation, perception of self-identity, segmentation, stratification and the question of ‘Tribeship’ particularly in the context of inter-community relationships by combining the structuralist and anthropological-historical methods.

 

Who are the Nagas: Native Perception and Tribeship?

 

The Nagas, scattered in Nagaland and adjacent parts of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar, do not form one homogeneous tribe but rather a constellation of numerous tribes. Each Naga tribe occupies its distinct territory in those areas, where it enjoys all traditional rights over land, forest and water resources both at a collective level and in a private capacity. The fact remains that the tribes of no other state enjoy special protective measures and privileges to such an extent. At the same time the so-called Inner Line Regulation, in operation since colonial days, continues to prohibit unauthorized entry of non-Nagas into Naga areas till today. The Nagas regard themselves as ‘independent’ and autochthonous people historically and ethnically. On the eve of Indian independence the Nagas had strongly protested against their inclusion into the Indian Union and later they launched one of the most effective movements led by their English educated middle class leaders who had voiced apprehension on various forums (Das 1982). This construction of Naga ethnicity and the anxiety for its preservation continues to form the essence of the current appeal of Naga leaders negotiating with the Government of India. All Nagas share a common core of cultural traditions and material traits, but unique customs, laws, dialects and other social institutions differentiate them from one another. Seventeen tribes in Nagaland and seven tribes in Manipur are notified as Naga Scheduled Tribes, but such ethnic categorization, a legacy of colonial constructions, does not match with the peoples’ own ethno-cultural classification.

 

The legends of different Naga tribes indicate that most of these ‘tribes’ in historical past kept on moving from one place to another spread over vast areas of the Naga hills before they settled in their present habitats. The legends also describe various processes of immigration and absorption of certain clans of two or more Naga ‘tribes’ into one tribal-ethnic entity. In such cases dialectical and certain other cultural identity markers continued to be maintained by such distinct clan groups, even after long period of absorption. This author observed this phenomenon in Sangtam and Chakhesang areas. Each Naga tribe has its own legend to give some indication of the course from which its migration took place, though some Naga tribes, such as the Khiamngan, Pochury, Sangtam and Chang regard themselves as original inhabitants of these hills (Das 1993:25). The Angami, Chakhesang, Lotha, Rengma and Sema tribes have common traditions and myths of origin, and thereby they are said to have originated from a single stock but later on got separated and gradually required separate tribal identities after occupying distinct hill ranges. Territorial factor besides interactional factor has generally been an important and crucial basis of coinage of ethnonyms. The name popular among the upper Konyak people of Mon and Tuensang districts is Maha. During the Ahom rule in Assam and earls’ British period the Konyak were called as Banferia and Jobokia, according to their respective areas and passes through which the Nagas used to visit the Assam plains the Lothas are called by the Sema as Chuwami, i.e., “those who preceded”. One folktale narrates that the ancestors of the Lotha, Sema, Rengma and the Angami had migrated together from a South-East Asian region and lived together at “Kezakenoma” village, located in the Mao area of Manipur. After having been pushed by the .gami, the remaining three groups then came to Themoketsa hill where the Rengma split off. The Lotha settled down permanently in mountain region in and around Wokha. The Lotlia are divided into two territorial division, the northern Lotha and the southern Lotha, characterised by difference of dialect and culture. The Sema settled down in Zhonobot area. The pochury who are the last group to be given recognition, form one of the smallest Naga tribes. Till 1987 they were the part of the Chakhesang Naga tribal category. The term Pochury is an acronym formed by amalgamation of letters derived from three place-names, i.e., Sapo, Kechuri and Khury. The British described the Pochury as the Eastern Sangtam or Eastern Rengma interchangeably (Das 1994a). The Pochury population is distributed in twenty-four vifiages. Unlike most of the Naga tribes the Pochury have some such clans which have pan-tribal distribution. In the Meluri area the Pochury people had a monopoly over salt water, spinning, wooden work, leather work and stone work. The Sangtam are also divided into two main territorial groups located in Chare circle and Kiphire subdivision of Tuensang District in eastern Nagaland, and speak two forms of same dialect. The Yimchunger Nagas form a small community with their population being 22,054 (1981 census). This tribe is divided into three main sub-tribes, the Tikhir Makware, and the Chirr speaking different dialects. Endogamy at sub-tribal level is maintained in respective territories. Unlike the term “Zeliangrong” used by the members of three tribes, the Zemi, Liangmei and Rongmei, to identify and project themselves as a single ethno-cultural entity, the term ‘Zeliang’ (by combining two words ‘Ze’ and ‘Liang’ representing only two tribal names) is used and recognised at administrative level in Nagaland. Thus the Kabui or the Rongmei tribe in Nagaland is separately recognised at administrative level. The fact that the Zemi, Liangmei and the Rongmei tribesmen who lived scattered in distant places in the past, had broken the genealogical base and the moiety system of the ‘Zeliangrong’ people in the long run. The processes of tribalisation, detribalisation and Sanskritisation have affected the Zeliangrong people in different habitats, in the hills and the plains in different degree (Das 1989 a : 234- 242). It was Jadonang who revived and reformed the Rongmei religion and started the heraka cult in 1925, by amalgamating the Zemi, Liangmei and the Rongmei. After his death, Rani Gaidinliu popularised this cult. Besides this cult the rituals like gaon-ngai (and also chaga) provide a symbol and basis for tribal solidarity.

 

Like ‘Zeliangrong’, the word “Chakhesang” is also an acronym formed by letters derived from the names of three tribes (Cha from the Chakhru, Kha from the Khezha and Sang from the Sangtam). The Chakhru and the Khezha, who form the main ethnic segments within the “Chakhesang” are linguistically and culturally close to the ‘Angami proper’ or the Tengnta (Western Angaini). These two tribes, located in Phek District, were called as the Eastern Angami during the British period. The Chakhesang people do not form a single endogamous group. Endogamy continues to be maintained at the sub-tribal level. The three tribal segments (Chakhru, Khezha and Sangtam) live in their respective territories, speak their own dialects, and variously practise and follow endogamy and other institutional principles of tribeship. Occupying a particular hill range (Japfu and its surrounding regions) the “Zounuo-Keyhonuo” were markedly conscious of their tribal identity even in the historical past in a number of ways. The people regarded the “tribe” as the largest unit of internal peace. Killing of a non-Zounuo-Keyhonuo Naga was not regarded as a crime. It was rather admired. Outside the Zounuo-Keyhonuo territory lived tribes such as the Chakhru, Kheza, Mao (in neighbouring Manipur) and others, occupying their own territories, and maintaining their distinct identities.  Among all Naga communities, the Khiamngan emerge as culturally, territorially and structurally the most coherent group. A moiety system divides the whole tribal population called mele into two moieties or kao groupings. These two moieties are named as Lam and Shiu. Each exogamous moiety is divided into a number of non-exogamous clans or yasangla. Special privileges are accorded to these clans. Recruitment of priests and other politico-religious specialists from specific clans indicates a system of social stratification operating at village level.

 

 

Stratification among the Nagas

 

In his famous work on the Highlands of Burma, Edmund Leach used the models gumlao and gumsa, by drawing the ethnographic content from the polities of the Angami and Sema, in general. In anthropological parlance the gumlao and gumsa models have come to represent the ‘democratic-republican’ polity as against the ‘autocratic- chieftainship’. Traditionally indeed the Nagas have different types of political and legal systems. The chieftainship is not the only characteristic feature of the Naga polity. Among the Naga chiefs, however, the chiefs of the Konyak, Sema and the Mao were the most powerful ones. When this author visited the Chui chief Ang’s house way back in 1976, the chief (Ang) informed that he had given up most of his powers but he continued to enjoy traditional economic privileges and certain political rights. The Angs of some Konyak villages had under them villages varying from four to twenty paying regular tributes. This author collected names of such twenty villages, which were under certain control of the Chui Ang during 1976-77. In some villages term wang is used for chief. The Ang and Wang clans among the Konyak enjoy highest positions in their respective villages. In terms of chieftainship and Angship the Konyak society may be stratified into four categories: (i) Jongwang, (ii) Wangsa, (iii) Wangsu, and (iv) ordinary villagers. In administrative matters the Jongwang is assisted by the Wangsa and the Wangsu. An Ang (or Wang) may marry as many women as his wealth and influence permitted. But he has to keep one among them as principal wife. Children through principal wife enjoy higher positions and the son of such wife eventually becomes the chief. The most characteristic feature of the Konyak chieftainship is the selection of the principal wife only from an Ang family of another village. The people in upper Konyak area have a republican type of tribal government. Among these people the clans are not arranged hierarchically as in Mon-Chui areas. The Chang tribe is divided into four exogamous clans— Kangshau, Ong, Hongang and Lamou, as this author discovered. According to their legend, it was the Kangshau ancestor who had emerged from the earth before all others. Hence the members of this clan are accorded the highest position in the village level stratification. Members of this clan normally found the new villages. The members of the Ang clan enjoy the second position in local hierarchy. The chief priest known as ongbou, is selected from amongst the members of this clan. The members of Hongang clan occupy the third position. The oldest members of this clan are regarded as a religious specialist whose duty is to announce the time and date for village festivals. The oldest member of the Lamou clan announces the date and time for launching agricultural activities. A direct link is established between the clan system and the system of political and religious domains among the Changs. These factors have provided shape to village political life. At the same time, a person with proven ability is given the status lakpu (the chief). The lakpu derived his position on the basis of his ‘military’ roles and enjoyed privileges to decorate his house with special marks. Only the lakpu may wear full ceremonial dress during festivals. When the lakpu becomes old he is inducted into the village council as arbitrator (Das 1994). In the detailed analysis below we will take up the case of the democratic functioning of the segmentary political system, where the big-men emerge from time to time by manipulating the pre-existing social-kinship orders, and by use of the age-set system.

 

Politics of Kinship and Political Anthropology:


What social anthropologists call structural analysis began with the study of lineage systems in societies where descent remained the most important principle of grouping in political matters as well as the source of individual rights and liabilities? This type of analysis distinguishes the lineage structure from that of kinship. It was necessary to achieve such a level of abstraction to make the distinction between the domains of politics and kinship. The major advance in kinship theory since the Radcliffe-Brown era has been this analytical separation of the political and the domestic domain. The publication of African Political Systems (Fortes & Evans-Pritchard 1940) and of the Dynamics of Clanship among the Tallensi (Fortes, 1945) for the first time established the political perspective in relation to social structure (Das 1993: 6-7). Meyer Fortes, a noted Africanist, particularly regards the politico-jural aspect as complementary to familial aspect of kinship relations (Fortes: 1969:73). Since some anthropologists have argued that corporate descent groups are only found in Africa, Jean La Fontaine however rejects the view that the descent model is non-applicable beyond Africa. She suggests that such vision will only destroy much of the unity of kinship theory (Hershman 1981:234 and Das 1993:145-15). The concept of ‘jural’ employed in this paper is in line with the authoritative analysis of law in tribal society advanced by Hoebel (1954), Gluckman (1955) and Fortes (1969). The notion of politics implied here is that of “relations between or within large groups” (Fortes and Evans Pritchard 1940:5-7). Descent, for Fortes is fundamentally a jural concept and forms the connecting link between the external, that is political and legal aspect of unilineal descent groups, and the domestic aspect (1953; 1970:84). The Marxist anthropologist Godelier (1973) moreover argued that kinship was not merely jural and or ideological in nature, but also formed an integral part of the relations of production.

 

BASIC ETHNOGRAPHY - NAGA TRIBES OF NAGALAND:

 

The legends of different Naga tribes indicate that most of these ‘tribes’ in historical past kept on moving from one place to another spread over vast areas of the Naga hills before they settled in their present habitats. The legends also describe various processes of immigration and absorption of certain clans of two or more Naga ‘tribes’ into one tribal-ethnic entity. In such cases dialectical and certain other cultural identity markers continued to be maintained by such distinct clan groups, even after long period of absorption. This phenomenon is observed by this author in Sangtam and Chakhesang areas.

 

Each Naga tribe has its own legend to give some indication of the course from which its migration took place, though some Naga tribes, such as the Khiamngan, Pochury, Sangtam and Chang regard themselves as original inhabitants of these hills (Das 1993: 25). The Angami, Chakhesang, Lotha, Rengma and Sema tribes have common traditions and myths of origin, and thereby they are said to have originated from a single stock but later on got separated and gradually required separate tribal identities after occupying distinct hill ranges.

 

Gradually, after occupying separate eco-environmental zones, the smaller Naga tribes established permanent settlements. Some larger tribes, such as the Ao and the Angami, however, kept on shifting their habitats during the initial stage by encroaching into the territories of smaller tribes. Later on economic compulsions forced them also to settle down in specific territories and to maintain solitary groups of kins following the principles of patrilocal residence and patrilineal descent. The practice of village endogamy followed even today almost universally by all Naga tribes, big or small is a direct result of the reliance on descent principles (and prevalence of ‘local warfare’ in the Naga hills until the recent past). Under such circumstances almost each major village emerged as a ‘tribe’. It is indeed well known that until the beginnLng of the present century there was no clear recognition of any multi-village interacting ethnic entity and there never existed a wider multi-village political system among the Nagas. Each localised Naga tribe and a vague idea about the maximal limits of its tribal boundary (Das 1993: 26). Besides ‘self-name’, each ‘tribe’ was differently identified by its neighbouring tribes. Here we see the ethnicity process at work at interactional level.1

Territorial factor besides interactional factor has generally been an important and crucial basis of coinage of ethnonyms. The name popular among the upper Konyak people of Mon and Tuensang districts is Maha. During the Ahom rule in Assam and earls’ British period the Konyak were called as Banferia and Jobokia, according to their respective areas and passes through which the Nagas used to visit the Assam plains the Lothas are called by the Sema as Chuwami, i.e., “those who preceded”. One folktale narrates that the ancestors of the Lotha, Sema, Rengma and the Angami had migrated together from a South-East Asian region and lived together at “Kezakenoma” village, located in the Mao area of Manipur. After having been pushed by the .gami, the remaining three groups then came to Themoketsa hill where the Rengma split off. The Lotha settled down permanently in mountain region in and around Wokha. The Lotlia are divided into two territorial division, the northern Lotha and the southern Lotha, characterised by difference of dialect and culture. The Sema settled down in Zhonobot area.

 

The Phom form yet another small Naga tribe. They are also known as Kahha. The Phom area always remains envelopel by clouds. The cloud in local dialect is called phom. Thus these pebple came to be called as the Phom. The pochury who are the last group to be given recognition, form one of the smallest Naga tribes. Till 1987 they were the part of the Chakhesang Naga tribal category. The term Pochury is an acronym formed by amalgamation of letters derived from three place-names, i.e., Sapo, Kechuri and Khury. The British described the Pochury as the Eastern Sangtam or Eastern Rengma interchangeably (Das 1994a). The Pochury population is distributed in twenty-four vifiages. Unlike most of the Naga tribes the Pochury have some such clans which have pan-tribal distribution. In the Meluri area the Pochury people had a monopoly over salt water, spinning, wooden work, leather work and stone work.

 

The Rengma are divided into two major territorial groups, Ntenye (northern) and Nzong (southern) groups. The Rengma occupy the spur of the ridge running from the Nidzukru hill to the Wokha hill. In 1971 the Rengma population was just 8174. These two groups of the Rengma speak different dialects. The fact remains that one section of the Rengma which had migrated to Mikir hills in Assam gradually abandoned many aspects of the Naga culture and language. The Rengma in the past maintained certain institutionalised interrelationships at inter-vifiage level (both within and outside the tribe) mainly by arranging a special feast called gwa-tho. The Rengma depended on the Lotha, Angami and Sema for salt, but the former produced cotton in plenty and traded the same with the Angami. The Rengma have been famous as expert smiths and their spear heads and daos were traded over the whole of the Naga hills areas.

The Sangtam are also divided into two main territorial groups located in Chare circle and Kiphire subdivision of Tuensang District in eastern Nagaland, and speak two forms of same dialect.

 

The Sema are one of the major and widely scattered Naga tribes of Nagaland. They are mainly concentrated in the Zunheboto District of Nagaland but their settlements may also be found in Kohima, Mokokchung and Tuensang districts, besides in neighbouring Assam.

 

The Yimchunger Nagas form a small community with their population being 22,054 (1981 census). This tribe is divided into three main sub-tribes, the Tikhir Makware, and the Chirr speaking different dialects. Endogamy at sub-tribal level is maintained in respective territories.

 

Unlike the term “Zeliangrong” now increasingly being used by the members of three tribes, the Zemi, Liangmei and Rongmei, to identify and project themselves as a single ethno-cultural entity, the term ‘Zeliang’ (by combining two words ‘Ze’ and ‘Liang’ representing only two tribal names) is used and recognised at administrative level in Nagaland. Thus the Kabui or the Rongmei tribe in Nagaland is separately recognised at administrative level. The fact that the Zemi, Liangmei and the Rongmei tribesmen who lived scattered in distant places in the past, had broken the genealogical base and the moiety system of the ‘Zeliangrong’ people in the long run. The processes of tribalisation, detribalisation and Sanskritisation have affected the Zeliangrong people in different habitats, in the hills and the plains in different degree (Das 1989 a : 234- 242). It was Jadonang who revived and reformed the Rongmei religion and started the heraka cult in 1925, by amalgamating the Zemi, Liangmei and the Rongmei. After his death, Rani Gaidinliu popularised this cult. Besides this cult the rituals like gaon-ngai (and also chaga) provide a symbol and basis for tribal solidarity.

 

Like ‘Zeliangrong’, the word “Chakhesang” is also an acronym formed by letters derived from the names of three tribes (Cha from the Chakhru, Kha from the Khezha and Sang from the Sangtam). The Chakhru and the Khezha, who form the main ethnic segments within the “Chakhesang” are linguistically and culturally close to the ‘Angami proper’ or the Tengnta (Western Angaini). These two tribes, located in Phek District, were called as the Eastern Angami during the British period. The Chakhesang people do not form a single endogamous group. Endogamy continues to be maintained at the sub-tribal level. The three tribal segments (Chakhru, Khezha and Sangtam) live in their respective territories, speak their own dialects, and variously practise and follow endogamy and other institutional principles of tribeship. Occupying a particular hill range (Japfu and its surrounding regions) the “Zounuo-Keyhonuo” were markedly conscious of their tribal identity even in the historical past in a number of ways. The “tribe” was regarded by the people as the largest unit of internal peace. Killing of a non-Zounuo-Keyhonuo Naga was not regarded as a crime. It was rather admired. Outside the ZounuoKeyhonuo territory lived tribes such as the Chakhru, Kheza, Mao (in neighbouring Manipur) and others, occupying their own territories, and maintaining their distinct identities.

 

Distributed in ten original tribal villages the ZounuoKeyhonuo tribesmen regard their tribal territory as their ancestral land. They believe that their villages were established by the descendants of their tribal ancestors—”Zounuo” and “Keyhonuo” who themselves had established Kigwema and Viswema villages respectively. This belief is buttressed by the existence of a tribal genealogical chart linking the founders of all the villages of the tribe with the apical tribal ancestors on the one hand and connecting through moieties the numerous clans / lineages of each village within the same genealogical/segmentary (pyramidal) structure, on the other. The persistence of tribe depended indeed as much upon the conviction of the Zounuo-Keyhonuo people on this genealogical connectedness at maximal tribal level, as on their possession of common kinship, ritual, dialectical and cultural traits and oral traditions, besides their territorial affiliations (For details see Das 1993).

 

THE NAGAS AND THE PRINCIPLES OF CLANSHIP AND DESCENT-

 

In the Naga society, elaboration of the descent groups provides a scaffold for organising social relationships amongst the territorially divided social groupings, particularly the clans and lineages. The patrilineal descent is the vehicle of continuity which provides stability to the Naga social structure. A Naga village may more appropriately be defined as a cluster of ‘independent’ clans occupying distinct clan-territories. These clan localities had come to be described as khels during the British period. Each clan traditionally enjoys its autonomy in terms of its exclusive political, jural and economic rights over well-defined land and forest areas including water resources and fishing areas.

 

The fact remains that rivalry, antagonism and blood-feud among the clans had coloured the whole Naga way of life. This was more the case, however, in the pre-colonial and early colonial periods. It may be mentioned, however, that local warfare and head-hunting portrayed only one aspect of the Naga life. There are evidences to show that under prolonged peaceful conditions and through friendly relationship among certain villages, strong socio-economic and cultural linkages and also trade relations were established among different Naga tribes even during the precolonial period.

 

Among all Naga communities, the Khiamngan emerge as culturally, territorially and structurally the most coherent group. A moiety system divides the whole tribal population called mele into two moieties or kao groupings. These two moieties are named as Lam and Shiu. Each exogamous moiety is divided into a number of non-exogamous clans or yasangla. Special privileges are accorded to these clans. Recruitment of priests and other politico-religious specialists from specific clans, indicates a system of social stratification operating at village level.

 

The chieftainship has been a characteristic feature of the Naga polity. The Naga village chief has a dual function as the religious and secular head of the village. As religious head the chief is the first man to sow seeds, the first to plant and the first to harvest. The chief presides over all religious festivals. Among the Naga chiefs the chiefs of the Konyak, Sema and the Mao were the most powerful ones. When this author visited the Chui chief Ang’s house some years back the chief (ang) informed that he had given up most of his powers but he continued to enjoy traditional economic privileges and certain political rights. The angs of some Konyak villages had under them villages varying from four to twenty paying regular tributes. Names of such twenty villages which were under certain control of the ChuiAng during 1976-77, were collected by this author. In some villages term wang is used for chief. The Ang and Wang clans among the Konyak enjoy highest positions in their respective villages. In terms of chieftainship and Angship the Konyak society may be stratified into four categories: (i) Jongwang, (ii) Wangsa, (iii) Wangsu, and (iv) ordinary villagers. In administrative matters the Jongwang is assisted by the Wangsa and the Wangsu. An Ang (or Wang) may marry as many women as his wealth and influence permitted. But he has to keep one among them as principal wife. Children through principal wife enjoy higher positions and the son of such wife eventually becomes the chief. The most characteristic feature of the Konyak chieftainship is the selection of the principal wife only from an Ang family of another village. The people in upper Konyak area have a republican type of tribal government. Among these people the clans are not arranged hierarchically as in Mon-Chui areas.

 

The Chang tribe is divided into four exogamous clans— Kangshau, Ong, Hongang and Lamou. According to their legend, it was the Kangshau ancestor who had emerged from the earth before all others. Hence the members of this clan are accorded the highest position in the village level stratification. The new villages are normally founded by members of this clan. The second position in local hierarchy is enjoyed by the members of the Ang clan. The chief priest known as ongbou, is selected from amongst the members of this clan. The members of Hongang clan occupy the third position. The oldest members of this clan is regarded as a religious specialist whose duty is to announce the time and date for village festivals. The oldest member of the Lamou clan announces the date and time for launching agricultural activities. A direct link is established between the clan system and the system of political and religious domains among the Changs. These factors have provided shape to village political life. At the same time, a person with proven ability is given the status lakpu (the chief). The lakpu derived his position on the basis of his ‘military’ roles and enjoyed privileges to decorate his house with special marks. Only the ?akpu may wear full ceremonial dress during festivals. When the lakpu becomes old he is inducted into the village council as arbitrator.

The four major clans among the Chang are based on certain totemic beliefs. Thus the Chang relate that in the beginning, their ancestors, tiger and some other animals had lived together. Some of these animals have assumed the status of clan-spirits. The tiger and tigress are regarded as spirits by the Ong clan.2 The domestic and jungle cats, and birds like crow and eagles, are regarded as spirits among the Kangsheu, Lemou and Hongang clans.

 

The family is the basic domestic group among the Naga. The individual families are clearly organised in their internal and external relations. They enjoy considerable autonomy within larger descent groups. Each family is an unit of food consumption and property ownership. This shows economic separateness and jural autonomy of every family. However, in Naga society it is expected of a father to work for the unity of the families of male siblings. A significant feature of the Naga kinship system is its patrilineal character. However, no rigid distinction is made among the sons and daughters in terms of their rights and role expectations. Thus the Naga women enjoy almost equal status with the men. In matters of inheritance and succession, rights of men are not recognised to the complete exclusion of women. Among several Naga tribes (Anganii, Chakhesang, Pochury, etc.) the married daughters enjoy jural rights over paternal property which includes land. Among the Zounuo Keyhonuo, however, specific distinction is made between male and female agnates, in termSof their rights to distinctly recognised common clan or lineage properties, called kayle. In general, however, the Naga ideal is to live together in unity, maintaining wider agnatic and cognatic kinship amity and solidarity.

 

Elsewhere this author (Das 1989b: 1993) has observed that the Zounuo-Keyhonuo consider themselves a giant patrician, descended from Zounuo and Keyhonuo, the twin ancestors of all living beings. Each individual belongs to an inner lineage (punumi), which traces descent, two to three generations back to a common ancestor. This inner lineage, in turn, is linked with several more inclusive sub-lineages (known as lakro and putsanu). The sub- lineages are linked with others in a lineage (saira). Several localised lineages are linked with a clan (thenu) whose members are descended from a distant ancestor who occupies a specific place in the wider tribal genealogical chart. In the scheme of a total tribal segmentary system, the lineages belong to either of the moieties, called Thewo and Tepa. The sarra or lineage.among the Zounuo Keyhonuo is defined primarily by the canon of agnatic descent. Most of the politico-jural and ritual offices are vested in particular lineages. The exact agnatic relationship of every member of a lineage to every other member is, in theory, known or can be ascertained by genealogical reckoning. The male members are supreme in the conduct of lineage affairs and the defacto corporate unit is the group of male members. Since marriage is patrilocal, a woman is usually separated from her male lineage—kinsfolk, and cannot easily take part in regular lineage counsels.

 

A lineage is clearly distinguishable from another lineage. The Zounuo-Keyhonuo lineage segments do not tend to have a stereotyped structure and growth. Thus, for example, the Pusa sarra of Rochuma clan of Viswema village consists of only one putsanu (Hocho putsanu), two lokro segments (Kamu lokro and Vabio lokro) and several sub-lineages based on punumi and tso groups. On the other hand, the Kikhitso lineage of Kirhazuma clan consists of as many as five put sanu segments, twelve lokro segments, and over thirty punumi or inner lineages. The Kachunuo and Tsukru lineages, to cite yet another example, have not forgotten their old agnatic linkages, and hence both these sarras combine to form one exogamous group.

 

The different patterns that emerge in the formation of wider segments of the society thus appear to have structural links with the processes of segmentation and unification. Hence, there are considerable variation in the growth and structure of different lineages. Thus, three distinct types of lineages are observable in terms of their internal constitution, development and exogamous rule. First is that lineage in which its genealogically traceable sub- lineages are the basis of its existence. This is the commonest type. Second is the lineage whose distinct segments are no longer able to trace the relationships amongst themselves back until one reaches the founder, and the third is the “exogamous segment” formed by two closely connected lineages who do not intermarry (For details see Das 1993 : 101-117).

 

The fact, however, remains that patrifiliation is not the only criterion for recruitment to lineages; branches (or ‘segments’) are indeed sometimes established through women ancestors among the Zounuo-Keyhonuo. Such matrifiliants or their groups are distinguished categorically but this is not to classify them as “accessory or attached” groups. They are true parts of the sarra segment. The lineage groups are thus formed both agnatically and cognatically among these people.

 

Many technical terms have been adopted in Social Anthropology from English and other languages. Terms such as “Tribe” and “Caste” have been employed in Indian context as an aid to comprehensibility, indeed the Constitution of India too has recognised these terms and created broad categories of “under privileged groups” that were to be the object of special administrative and welfare efforts. Three categories named, but not defined, are: Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes, and Backward Classes. Unlike the caste, the tribes, particularly in North-East India, are localised and well-identified groups with their relatively small populations. Applying standard sociological-anthropological definition, the people such as the Naga populations, scattered in distinct hill ranges, may be regarded as ‘having historically existed as ‘tribes’—carrying distinct cultures, languages, religions and names’. Each Naga tribe, because of its dominant kinship-based social and politico-jural structures and definite boundary— maintaining principles, emerges as a whole society. Bailey too is of the opinion that ‘a tribe is generally a whole society’ (1961: 14).

 

In a review of the construction of the category “tribe” Devalle (1992:92-39) has argued that notwithstanding the doubts regarding the category “tribe”, anthropologists have continued to use it. Two factors in view of Devalle seem to account for its persistence. First, the continuation of micro-studies ignoring the social macrolevel, historical processes and structural transformations. Second, there has been a confusion between idealised types and reality (emphasis added).

 

The category tribe was constructed out of ideas about those societies which existed in some specific shapes in the pre-colonial past. This construct has in turn got projected into the post-colonial situation and mechanically applied also to the societies which have already been incorporated in a capitalist economy and in the world market (Mafeje 1971).

In this concise work we have analysed the processes of social formation with special emphasis on historical dimensions of ethnic boundary maintenance, segmentation and identity expansion. In stead of ethnic group/ethnicity the term ‘tribe’ has been used.

 

Several social scientists have now been increasingly using the term ‘ethnicity’ (Das 1989a) and ‘post-tribe’ to describe the situation in north-east (Roy Burman 1994, Imcheri 1993). But in both cases what is analytically relevant is people’s self-perception. In this study therefore the historicity and sociological determinants of the Naga tribal self-perceptions have been explained. The tribe in Naga hill areas exists as a relevant cultural construct.

 

We have also observed that ‘tribes’ generally emerge as ‘segmentary systems’ among the Naga wherein territory genealogy and social structure are neatly tied together (Das 1992a, Das 1993). Omvedt (1993) has rightly observed that ‘tribal societies of NorthEast are not simply remnants of a superceded historical stage, doomed to disappear eventually. At the same time it may be argued that the term tribe should be accepted in its new ‘post- archaic’ neutral form. One should not forget that the Naga tribeship (‘tribalism’) was the initial reference point by which common inter-acting cultural traits, myths and symbols were regarded as elements of tribal solidarity (Das 1982b, 1994e, 1996).

 

It is also true that the demand of the Naga autonomy was buttressed by the emerging notion of such composite Naga identity in post-1946 situation. Dominant tribes such as the Angami, Ao, and Sema (through their English educated middle class/elite) spoke of the political unity of the distinct Naga tribes. The Naga National Council indeed introduced the concept of “Naga nationalism” (Das 1982b). At the first stage of ethnic mobilisation a clear distinction was jealously maintained on the lines of ‘ethnocultural’ affiliations and other consideration of ‘ethnicity’ vis-àvis Assamese/ out-groups!’ Indians’. This provided a convenient basis for articulating political cohesion. Articulation, development and extension of the Naga identity is a multi-faceted phenomenon. Large number of the Naga tribes living in several states and beyond form an ethnic conglomeration. Attainment of statehood and persistent demand of “greater Nagaland” have accelerated the process of Nagaisation. Thus, quite a few erstwhile Kuki tribes of Manipur such as the Anal, Mayon, Monsong, Lamgang, Chothe, Chiru, and Kom have aligned and re-identified themselves with the ‘Naga’ framework. To sum up, the Naga tribes are highly segmented people. Ethno-cultural and linguisti boundaries between them are clear- cut. Tribe not only remains a household word in this part of North-East, but as an analytic construct it does help us elucidate internally segmented social structures of varieties of tribes anthropologically. The tribal identity remains an imperative status, an ascribed aspect of their peoplehood. Territorially anchored individual tribes draw boundaries vis-à-vis other Naga tribes, who thereby become ‘outsiders’. On account of this cultural dissimilarity and social hiatus the term “tribe” which stresses on descent, corporate group formation and genealogy in relation to particular ecological zone are found to be analytically appropriate. Conversely then the ethnicity concept does appear crucial to analyse the Naga-non-Naga interactional situation. Eriksen has rightly observed that “ethnicity deals with classfication of people and group relationships (1993:4). In the final analysis then it may be argued that there is still scope to describe minimal social-territorial formation in the Naga hills in terms of ‘tribeship’ category as against ethnicity which is applicable at maximal/regional level.

 

Notes

 

1. The Naga tribes were never isolated nor entirely independent of dominant cultural and political processes and economic networks. In different historical phases the Naga tribes came to maintain social relations with one another in different degrees and thus grew the tradition of ethnonym. Therefore, the original self-name of theAngami is ‘Tengima’ but since the British period they have been called by the name Angami. During the British period, the word Angami was used for several Naga tribes such as the Chakroma, Tengima, Chakrima or Chakrama, Kezami, Memi and Dzunokehena or Zounuo-Keyhonuo (Das 1994d). The Angami-Tengima were called Tsungumi by the Sema, isungung by the Lotha and the Mour by the Aos. The Aos had called themselves Aor. They were called by the Sema as Chunglir. The Chang are a less known tribe of Nagaland. The Chang is their self name. The British neglected their self-name and called them as the Mazung. The Chang were identified by the upper Konyak as Duenching and by the Khiamngan as Changhai (Das 1994b). The Khiamngan Naga are also a less known tribe. The Britishers had called them as the Kelu-Kenyu or the ‘slate house dwellers’ (Das 1994c).

 

2. Most Naga tribes regard the ultimate ancestry of man and the tiger (or leopard) as very intimately associated. The Angami relate that inthe beginning the first spirit, the tiger and the first man were three sons of one mother. At last the mother got tired of family squabbles, put up a mark in the jungle and told the man and the tiger to run to it, the one that touched it first being destined to live in villages and the other to live in the jungle. By arrangement between the spirit and the man, the former shot an arrow at the mark, while the other two were racing, and the man cried out that he had touched it. The tiger arrived while it still trembled from the blow, and being deceived, went away angry to live in the jungle.

 

3. Yet another significant feature of the Naga people in general and the Zounuo-Keyhonuo in particular is the age-set system. Among the Zounuo-Keyhonuo, persons of the same sex and of about the same age are formally grouped at successive intervals. In the past, each set had distinctive status, role and ceremonial as well as military function to perform. In the village Viswema of the Zounuo-Keyhonuo, the age-set system operates at clan level. There are five sets called the Pithi-Ketsami, Mehu-chu, Krisha-Mehu-Chu, Krisha-Chu and Nhachu-Chu. The elders placed in the age-set of the Pithi-Ketsami, are the senior most leaders who either occupy high religious positions or secular positions of informal politico-jural leaders. The leaders belonging to the Pithj-Ketsami and Mehu-chu are fully responsible for carrying out the jobs of the tribal adjudicators, peace-makers and religious specialists.

 

 

REFERENCES-

 

Bailey, F.G., 1961, ‘Tribe’ and ‘Caste’ in India, Contributions to Indian Sociology, 5:7-19.

Das, N.K., 1982a, ‘Tribe’ as Segmentary Social System: The ZounuoKeyhonuo Naga, Social Research, 2:1-5.

Das, N.K., 1982b, Naga Movement, in Tribal Movements in India, KS. Singh, (Ed.) Delhi, Manohar Publisher.

Das, N.K., 1989a, Ethnic Identity Ethnicity and Social Stratification in NorthEast India, New Delhi, Inter India Publications.

Das, N.K., 1989b, The Segmentary Lineage System of the ZounuoKeyhonuo Naga, Human Science, 38(3):210-215.

Das, N.K., 1993, Kinship, Politics and Law in Naga Society, Calcutta, Anthropological Survey of India.

Das, N.K., 1994a, Pochury Naga in Nagaland, N.K. Das and C.L. lmchen, (Eds). pp. 125-144, Calcutta, Anthropological Survey of India.

Das, N.K., 1994b, Chang Naga in Nagaland, N.K. Das and C.L. lmchen, Eds. pp. 86-104, Calcutta, Anthropological Survey of India.

Das, N.K., 1994c, Khiamngan Naga in Nagaland, N.K. Das and C.L. Imchen (Eds.), pp. 96-112, Calcutta, Anthropological Survey of India.

Das, N.K., 1994d, Angami Naga in Nagaland, N.K. Das and C.L. Imchen, (Eds.), pp. 63-86, Calcutta, Anthropological Survey of India.

Das, N.K., 1994e, Ethno-historical Processes and Ethnicity in North-East India, Journal of the Indian Anthropological Society 29 (1&2): 3-24.

Das, N.K., 1996, Cultural Identity and Tribal Heritage of North-East India, Tribal Identity in India, Kalyan Kumar Chakravarty (Ed.), pp. 1-26, Bhopal, IGRMS, National Museum of Man.

Devafle, Susana B.C., 1992, Discourses of Ethnicity: Culture and Protest in Jharkhand, New Delhi, Sage Publications.

Eriksen, T.H., 1993, Ethnicity and Nationalism, London, Pluto Press.

Imchen, C.L., 1993, Naga Politics: Regionalism or non-state Nation, Regionalism in India, B. Pakenm (Ed.), pp. 280-288, New Delhi, Har Anand Publications.

Mafeje, A., 1971, The Ideology of Tribalism, The Journal of Modern African Studies, 9 (2) 253-61.

Omvedt, Gail, 1993, The North-East Region and Indian Civilisation, In Iegionalism in India, B. Pakem (Ed.), New Delhi, Har Anand Publications.

Roy, Burman, B.K., 1994, Tribal and Analogues Social Formation, Tribal Transformation in India, Vol. 3, B. Chaudhuri (Ed.), New Delhi, InterIndia Publications.

 

THE ABOVE PRESENTATION IS A REVISED VERSION OF EARLIER WORKS OF THIS AUTHOR. It is largely based on paper titled ‘People’s Perception, Segmentary System and Tribeship in Naga Hill Areas’, authored by  N K Das, PhD, Deputy–Director (former) and Visiting Fellow (Anthropological Survey Of India, Kolkata ) in the book- The North-East India- The Human Interface, Edited by Raha ,M.K. and Aloke Kumar Ghosh (1998 ) Gyan Publishers, New Delhi. Contact author at nkdas49 at gmail dot com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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