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Day 90: Longwa

Michael Palin - HimalayaThroughout the Himalaya, in Kashmir, on the North-West Frontier, in Tibet and Nepal, we've encountered a tension between the hill people, determined to preserve their customs and traditions, and the plains people wanting to build nations and impose control and conformity. It's no different here. There are a dozen different Naga tribes in these hills, who, until very recently fought each other and themselves, took heads as trophies and were generally left alone. From the middle of the 19th century, the British took an interest, but of an avuncular sort, never trying to subdue them but keeping them as a loose but friendly tribal area, which they called Nagaland. They were followed by American missionaries, who tried to persuade them to love God, grow crops and stop fighting.

When India was granted independence, the Nagas were not happy. Assimilation and domination by their Assamese lowland neighbours was seen as infinitely worse than staying with the British, and they made things difficult for India, boycotting general elections and fighting a fierce independence war against central government right up until the 1990s.

In January 2003, after 40 years of bloodshed, the NSCN, National Socialist Council of Nagaland, met in Delhi and announced that the war was over. Others are not so sure. They claim that the dream of an independent Nagaland will never go away.

The problem is that the Naga tribes remain essentially a trans-border people who don't fit neatly into any of the boxes that the politicians have created for them. This may vex central government but it also means I can stand astride this particular frontier without fear of being mined, electrocuted or shot.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 90: Longwa
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Longwa
  • Book page no: 209

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