By Imtiyala Jamir | EMN
“What does it mean to be a Naga?” Easterine Kire, in her latest book, posits this unrelenting question through a narrative that walks us through the annals of Naga history into the modern era. Kire’s meticulous mapping of the Naga origin story is insightful and for Naga history buffs like myself, a gratifying experience.
Her book is divided into four sections; the first section is a comprehensive detailing of the different Naga tribes, their history and culture. Readers are given an “an overview of Nagaland”, through a tribe-wise breakdown of their “origin tales”, rituals, festivals and other relevant customs and practices. This is followed by a brief section on the advent of Christianity in the state. The missionaries and the first individuals to be converted to Christianity from the different tribes highlight this section.
The third section, “From British Colonisation to Statehood” is an account of the significant personalities and events that contributed to the rise of political consciousness among the Nagas, and the challenges of the freedom struggle that Nagaland continues to face today. Starting from “The Battle of Khonoma” to the emergence of the “Naga National Council”, Kire outlines the historic struggle for freedom through a narrative that engages the readers in a way that encapsulates her story telling finesse.
The last section is dedicated to the dichotomy that arises out of our innate pride for our heritage, our past, our roots yet our desire to walk simultaneously with the changes that come with the modern era. Aptly titled “Turning Points in Naga History”, this section is a reflection on certain key events that have perhaps changed the course of our Naga consciousness and consequently our Naga history. On the other hand, in this section and the epilogue that follows, readers are faced with a disjunction; from what was an alluring account of historical narrative, readers are suddenly introduced to a swift run-through of Naga ideologues. As readers attempt to grapple with these key insights, the book, however, ends with a solemnity that is hard to brood over.
“Walking the Roadless Road” is not just another historical avant-garde but an articulation of the Naga spirit and desire to belong at home, as well as metamorphose with the changing times. Through this intricate weaving of Naga history with the 21-century Nagas of today, Kire leaves the readers with questions that forces us to examine our place and our contribution to the Naga society.
How are we assimilating the past with the present? How do we take Nagaland and the Naga people forward? How do we tackle our sense of belonging vis-a-vis the Naga political struggle and nationalism? And most importantly, “What does it mean to be a Naga”?
The attempt to answer these questions, I believe, can perhaps begin with an understanding of a quote which Kire mentions in her prologue from Niketu Iralu: “We are trying to walk the roadless road with hope for peace”.