Haipou Jadonang - The Great Unsung Son
Dr Rimmei Longmei & Dr Aniruddha Babar
‘In our world of big names, curiously, our true heroes tend to be anonymous. In this life of illusion and quasi-illusion, the person of solid virtues who can be admired for something more substantial than his well-knownness often proves to be the unsung hero.’
- Daniel J Boorstin
There have always been untold stories-the stories of suffering, heroics, valor, courage, determination, inspiration, struggle, martyrdom, defeats and victories remain buried in the unknown, largely ignored, silent, invisible corners of the world. The northeast region of India that comprises the State of Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Sikkim is a rich reservoir of stories of patriotism, unity and national spirit which unfortunately could not become a part of the mainstream academic as well as cultural narratives.
Not too many people from outside the region would know about Haipou Jadonang, the Rongmei Naga leader, social reformer, political & spiritual leader from present-day Manipur who fought valiantly against the British Raj in pre-Independence India. The spiritual leader and political activist envisaged an independent Naga kingdom or ‘Naga Raj’ that brought him in direct conflict with the then British rulers of India. He was eventually hanged on August 29 in 1931. Haipou Jadonang was a man who built a strong army of 500 to take on the British and set up a Naga kingdom. He has been largely overlooked by writers and historians. It's time to put his story in right perspective.
His famous slogan “Makaam Mei Rui Gwang Tu Puni” which means “The sons of soil will reign”has been an inspiration to all indigenous people in the northeast India. Jadonang was one of the first Nagas to claim to be the ‘Messiah King’ of the Nagas and strove to liberate his people from British rule. Playing the role of a God-King, he became popular for his prophesies, healing power, religious and social activities. He organised his people into an effective resistance against British rule. His movement popularly called the Naga Raj movement spreading like wildfire in no time and engulfed the whole Zeliangrong areas and the neighbouring areas. Haipou Jadonang was distantly inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress Movement for national freedom as evident from the writings of the Political Agent Higgins that he had a suspicion based on information received from his sub-divisional officer in the North Cachar Hills District that Haipou Jadonang was, whether directly or indirectly, coming under the growing influence of the Indian National Congress.
It may be recalled that before launching his political movement Haipou Jadonang first saw the rising proliferation of Christianity. He felt this was an instrument of British imperialism. In the areas in and around present-day Tamenglong and Noney districts, the British had asserted control by then, posting officials to oversee administration. According to Jadonang, the conversion efforts of British missionaries in the region posed a serious threat to indigenous Naga faith, beliefs, customs and society. Of course, there were the economic costs that British imperialism had also imposed on the Nagas with high taxes, the introduction of unjust colonial law and an oppressive porter system. Haipou Jadonang, even though he was in his early twenties, a young man, took courageous and bold steps to go against the elders in the community to reform the irrelevant superstitious practices of the traditional religion.
According to a renowned scholar Prof Gangmumei Kamei, the religious reform he introduced in the traditional Zeliangrong society was a synthesis of Christian monotheism and Hindu idolatry and Temple culture, rationalized and simplified form of a religious worship and a political ideology of a kingdom. It is worth noting that socially he wanted to unite all his kindred groups of Zemei, Liangmei, Rongmei and Puimei and lay the foundation for Zeliangrong movement as a social and political entity which gradually evolved as a strong political voice in the region. As has been mentioned, as a social and spiritual leader his reforming activity began by preaching the unity of God, Haipou Ragwang and later on it was directed against the social abuses of the Zeliangrong society. He worked hard to remove the blind superstitions, prejudices, orthodox ideas and beliefs and also for the abolition of certain social taboos and gennas. In short, the Heraka movement of Haipou Jadonang was launched to eliminate the evils that crept in his own religion and society and to save the religion in particular from the onslaughts of the alien religion. As regards the political aim of his movement, Haipou Jadonang appealed to all the Nagas to forget about the past hatred, history of savage internecine warfare, inter-village feuds and communalism and unite against the foreigners and their exploitation to achieve it.
It may also be mentioned that Haipou Jadonang was living in very challenging times. Mainly three kinds of challenges faced him. The first challenge was the prevailing social and religious conditions - Zeliangrong superstitions, beliefs, orthodox ideas and practices. The second challenge was the atrocities of the British colonialism. The third challenge was the intrusion of the Kukis during their rebellion against the British rule. Jadonang believed that taking advantage of the situation, the Kukis armed with firearms/power were ruthlessly exploiting, suppressing and killing many Nagas including the Zeliangrongs during their armed rebellion against the British rule. This belief was so to say backed by what Robert Reid had written that in the year 1930-31, occurred the unrest connected with the rise of Haipou Jadonang who started a new religion and induced the superstitious Zeliangrongs to believe that he would overthrow the existing administration and enable them to take on the Kukis. John Parratt also mentioned in his book that the Kuki Rebellion has resulted in ethnic violence in which Kabui Nagas in particular suffered severely. This violence thus remained in Naga memory as a bitter scar for another decade and hence became one of the main factors behind the Jadonang movement.
It may be clearly mentioned that Haipou Jadonang wanted to drive out all the Britishers and set up the Naga kingdom. Perhaps his refusal to accept the British suzerainty had caused a great hostility between him and the British authority. By the end of 1927, his movement had become such an irritation to the British Administration in Manipur that it had decided to arrest Jadonang and bring him in for serious questioning. As planned, the British authority arrested him and on August 29 1931 hanged him on false accusation, nipping his movement in the bud. The Zeliangrongs, and other Nagas, the people of Manipur region and India have lost a great freedom fighter, an inspiring figure and a promising leader whose real intention was to end the British colonial rule and establish “SWARAJ”. It is certain that if he had lived, the story of his movement would be a different one.
(Dr Rimmei Longmei, Department of Political Science, Unity College and Dr Aniruddha Babar, Department of Political Science, Tetso College, Dimapur, Nagaland)
September 02 2022