L-R Julie, Author, Kikru, Avi, Ruokuo

Avi’s Wedding – Return to the Naga Hills

Avi, Julie and Ruokou, all daughters of Kikru. The girls became part of my family, one by one as they entered college life in Mangalore. I had met them first when I visited Kohima for the Hornbill festival a decade and a half back and dropped in to meet Kikru Pienyu, an old friend. 

They used to grace my home and stay overnight while breaking the journey at Bangalore to and fro from Mangalore and Kohima. While visiting his daughters over the years, Kikru, too, dropped in occasionally. Amidst the warmth of old friendship, our conversations delved into the journey of Naga society, navigating the challenges and triumphs of modernisation while preserving the essence of tradition. All these philosophical discussions were accompanied by copious amounts of beer, which transitioned to whisky after sunset in the best traditions of the Nagas.

L-R Khriebu, Author, Kikru, Avi

After the girls finished their education at Mangalore, our interactions lessened except for the occasional call. Kikru used to invite me to visit, and I used to jokingly parry that I was waiting for the wedding bells of my nieces for my visit. When Kikru finally announced that Avi was getting married, I found the dates clashed with unavoidable prior engagements. We then mutually agreed that the Sekreyni festival was the next best time. Come the last week of February, I was on the early morning flight to Dimapur. I first called on Ameto Peseyie and his family in Dimapur, whom I had last seen in Bangalore in the early 2000s. He is now in his 40s married to Ashu a vivacious lady, and blessed with three lovely kids. He warmly invited me home for dinner and I spent a great evening catching up with him and his extended family.

L-R Zhachüno, Krubi, Alebu, Author, Ameto – Peseyie family

The journey to Kohima was a drive through historical landscapes, where the echoes of past battles reverberated. Yet amidst these once remote hills, signs of progress manifested in the much improved roads that now made the trip from Dimapur to Kohima, a mere hour and half. The Battle of Kohima and the Chindits campaign are central to the folklore of the Indian Army officer cadre. Physical and mental toughness against overwhelming odds is paramount to a warrior. The Chindits campaign by the legendary British General Orde Wingate symbolised this. These qualities are assiduously inculcated while training the cadets in its military academies. Not many in India know that in 2013, a British National Army Museum poll voted the Battles of Kohima and Imphal “Britain’s Greatest Battle.” Thousands of Indian soldiers participated in these battles from both sides, as the INA fought on the side of the invading Japanese Imperial Army.

Morung Lodge B&B Midland Kohima

Three decades back, as a young footslogger, my stomach could handle the delicacies of the Naga kitchen in sterling fashion. However this time, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Despite a warm invitation from Kikru to stay at home, I booked my stay with the Morung Lodge, a bed and breakfast run by another old friend, Nino Zhasa. Nino, a great cook, catered to the more delicate sensibilities of my middle-aged Bangalore stomach.

Kikru had other plans, starting with a group of friends’ private celebration of the Sekrenyi on the first day. The highlights were the copious amounts of rice beer and other Naga delicacies served in bamboo glasses and refilled from dried pumpkin flasks. The celebrations involved dancing around a bonfire to evergreen English and Angami numbers late into the night. Some dancers were easily above 60 years old, and their carefree merriment highlighted the joi de vivre of the Angami society.

Kikru, Nino, Author

Rice Beer with traditional snacks

The second day was an overnight stay at Dzuleke in a hill cottage next to the Tragopan sanctuary. Michael Megovisa Sophi, the famous guide and repository of folk tales of the Angami, joined us. Michael’s knowledge of folklore is phenomenal, and he kept us entranced with stories of the legendary warriors of yore. Each story is a testament to the rich tapestry of Naga culture. He then mentioned his role in wildlife conservation, where, as the President of the student union he helped wean away the village, from hunting, by a strict regime of fines and confiscation of weapons. When the ban slowly took hold, a few left the village in protest. For those who know the Nagas, this is a near miracle with hunting intricately linked to their culture and way of life. Michael explained the challenges as some of these hunters were his close friends and relatives. The hunters are exceptionally talented people and artists in their own right. Their knowledge of the flora and fauna inhabiting the jungles is legendary. Some could intimately read trails and attract the animals by imitating their calls. These are all a wealth of indigenous knowledge passed down through generations.

L-R Michael, Author, Nino, Kikru

All this, Michael explained, would not have been possible without the reconciliation among the villagers of Khonoma, engineered by Niketu Iralu. He further elaborated that, although the Angami were head hunters, there was an honour code in headhunting. Any killings or crimes outside the accepted code were considered taboo, with the clan members’ honour bound to exact revenge. These blood feuds ran for generations, and Khonoma village had massive schisms. Khonoma was also the village of Zapu Phizo, more commonly known as AZ Phizo.

The reconciliation achieved among warring tribal clans immediately piqued my academic interest as this goes against the culture and traditions of the tribe. It is nothing less than a miracle. I needed to understand this better and requested Michael and Kikru to connect me with Niketu Iralu.

Niketu Iralu with Author

The meeting finally happened the next day when Niketu graciously invited me to his house for tea. I briefly explained my background as a student of InfoWar and my association with the Center For National Security Studies (CNSS), a think tank under Ramaiah University University Of Applied Science(RUAS). Niketu had an elegant home combining the best Naga traditional architecture with modernity. He was self-deprecating about his role in the reconciliation. He was careful to highlight that he merely worked with the rest of the committee and attributed this triumph to the people of Khonoma. He narrated the origin of the schism to the killing of T Sakhrie, a multifaced personality and moderate leader who was the secretary of the NNC from its inception to his tragic killing. The Sakhrie clan were influential; some migrated from Angami territory after the killing. Sakhrie’s murder resulted in a series of killings and counter-killings that tore apart Khonoma Village’s social fabric, which lasted for five decades till the reconciliation. 

The reconciliation of Khonoma village and the peace dividend that established the Tragopan Wildlife Sanctuary are significant achievements that merit academic study. The reconciliation if studied and its lessons applied with suitable cultural modifications can help other intractable conflicts in the region.

My four-day visit was coming to an end. Kikru’s family and others had showered me with love and affection. They want me to come back later with my son (currently doing his undergrad abroad). Kikru the hunter has offered to put him through the paces and teach him a little bit of the jungle craft a dying art. Plus in Angami tradition, friendships transcend generations. We both agreed that the next generation too should remain connected.

Takeaways of the visit from a Strategic Perspective include the following:-

Three decades back, people from the Indian heartland were referred to as Indians, while the indigenous tribes called themselves Nagas. The narrative has now changed to Indians from the mainland to the Indians of the Northeast, a vast improvement. My friends confidently asserted the Nagas were no less Indians than anyone else.

Another takeaway was the political turmoil in nearby Manipur, a cause of concern to the Nagas. Five broad streams that emerged were:

  • There was consensus that it was an ethnic conflict between the Meitei and Kuki, not a Hindu vs Christian conflict. 
  • They felt that there was a justified political issue of a 53% majority population having access to only 10% of the land. 
  • The broad feeling was the Kuki demand for a separate state was not tenable. 
  • They also felt that the Meitei demand for ST status was a comeuppance to their superiority complex vis a viz the tribals.
  •  Concern about this currently intractable standoff in Manipur, escalating to draw them into a wider conflict. 

The views of the Nagas provide a broader direction to the conflict currently underway between the Meitei and Kuki. They should realise that reconciliation and peace is finally the only solution in Manipur.

“Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away”

11 thoughts on “Avi’s Wedding – Return to the Naga Hills

  1. Dear Uncle Pavithran, Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful article about your visit to Kohima! It was heartwarming to reminisce about the old days and feel your presence as our guardian in South India. We truly appreciate you remembering us and keeping our connection alive. Looking forward to more cherished moments together!

    • Loved each n every word of ur experience in kohima ….Naga culture is something which we r so unaware of rather ignorant wud b d ryt word to say….we r proud to b an Indian but know rarely of our own Naga family n culture….thnx for sharing ur experience sir

  2. Hi Uncle Pavi, I had a gala time going through this delightful and engaging write up. Thank you for visiting like you promised. And yes, looking forward to having you and your son soon (Can’t wait to see you fighting for life after the hike you planned with him 😄)

  3. Brilliantly narrated, interspersed with insight into local cultures. Both the writer and the Naga people deserve to be treated as extrordinary and outstanding men and women ! 🫡

  4. Thanks for this blog. Helps spread awareness and information about this inherent part of our country.
    Your summary or takeaway from the visit is on point.
    I really appreciate that you have managed to maintain relationships over such a long period of time. The words “Friendships transcend generations.” Are going to stay with me.

  5. Dear Col. pavi,..thank you so so so so very much for sharing your mesmerizing visit along with the beautiful pictures….. wonderful family with u have spent the time…god bless ⭐⭐👏🏻👏🏻⭐⭐

  6. Thank you for your beautiful article on the Pienyus’. Kikru being my class mate from Sainik School Imphal is truly a legend. Salute.
    C Lima Imsong

  7. Dear Pavi,
    Thanks for sharing this interesting article with me. I can relate each and every word so closely as I spent two years in kohima which is so colorful city.

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