Nagas - Orientation



Identification. The designation "Naga" is applied to the numerous Indo-Mongoloid tribes living in the hill country at the convergence of the borders of India and Myanmar (Burma). Of these tribes, the following have received coverage in anthropological literature: the Kacha, the Angami, the Rengma, the Lhote, the Sema, the Ao, the Konyak, the Chang, the Sangtam, the Yachumi, the Tukomi, the Naked Rengma, the Tangkhul, and the Kalyo-kengyu or "slated-house men." The name "Naga" was first given to these tribal groups by the Ahoms in Assam and other neighboring Peoples (e.g., early Indo-Aryans, Kamarupa and Bengali Mongoloids, as well as the Assamese Ahoms) occupying the regions immediately adjacent to the districts in which the Naga are found. The derivation of the name "Naga" is not known with any degree of certainty. According to John Henry Hutton, the most likely explanation is that it is the result of the European lengthening of the Assamese word naga, "naked" (Sanskrit nagna ). Hutton also cites possibilities proposed by others for the meaning of the word, including "hill man" (from Hindustani nag, "mountain") and "people" (from nok, an Eastern Naga word of the same meaning). The Naga did not initially adopt this appellation; individual tribes preferred the use of their respective self-designations. It was not until nationalistic fervor grew with the decline of British imperial hegemony and the resultant advent of increased Indian authority over the Naga homeland that the name "Naga" gained widespread acceptance among the various tribes. Thus it was used in the names of the political organizations of the mid-twentieth Century that championed the cause of Naga independence from India (i.e., the Naga National Council, which declared independence from India in 1947, and the Naga Peoples Convention, whose efforts resulted in the formation of the state of Nagaland in 1963). In this summary, the focus is on the Angami, with additional information provided selectively for other Naga tribes.

Location. The locus of Naga culture is the hill country of northeast India between Assam's Brahmaputra Valley to the west and the Myanmar (Burma) border to the east. It is a steeply ridged and densely forested area bordered by the states of Arunachal Pradesh on the north and Manipur on the south. The approximate geographic coordinates of the Region are 24° 00′ to 27° 30′ N and 93° 00′ to 95° 00′ E.


Demography. The 1981 census of the state of Nagaland recorded a population of 774,930, three-quarters being Nagas. But Nagas live also in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, and Myanmar (Burma). In 1971 India had a total of 467,720 Nagas. Figures from 1982 record the following population estimates by tribe: 75,000 Ao Nagas, 18,000 Chang Nagas, 85,000 Konyak Nagas, 11,000 Maring Nagas, 21,000 Phom Nagas, 10,000 Rengma Nagas, 15,000 Rongmei Nagas, and 26,000 Zeme (Sema) Nagas.


Linguistic Affiliation. The Naga are characterized by a linguistic diversity that directly parallels their tribal diversity. There are about as many Naga dialects as there are Naga tribes. The lingua franca of the state of Nagaland is Naga Pidgin (also known as Nagamese, Kachari Bengali, or Bodo) and is particularly prevalent in Kohima District. There are some twenty-seven known Naga dialects, all part of the Tibeto-Burman Family, which is itself part of the Sino-Tibetan Phylum. These include Angami Naga, Ao Naga, Chang Naga, Chokri Naga, Kheza Naga, Khiamngan Naga, Khoirao Naga, Konyak Naga, and many others.


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