by D.P. Panmei, Ex-Minister
It was on the 22nd September, 2010, the day the Autumn met the onset of Winter, I along with some 15 enthusiasts or young adventurous men from Manipur happened to pay a visit to this curious Tourist Centre of the so-called suicide birds called “JATINGA” located in the southern part of Haflong town at a distance of 8 km. Bird Watching Tower is located on the sloppy top of the village – Jatinga. All the leaders of Zeliangrong Boudi of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland came to Lodiram, Haflong in connection with the Elections of Central Executive of the Boudi. The site was visited one day ahead before the Elections were conducted. ‘Jetinga’ was earlier settled by our Zeliangrong people (Zemes) in the 13th -14th centuries. Whenever they made bonfire to celebrate their customary festivals and conducted dances in the open space, the birds used to come and jumped inside the fire and died in the bonfire. The elders used to say that it was a bad omen, so they all deserted the village to escape the sight of the tragedy of the birds. Then the Khasi families were given freedom to settle in the said area. The land belonged to the Zeme speaking group of Zeliangrong community and had named the land or area as – JETINGA, not ‘JATINGA’
Je = means ‘Valley’
Ting = means ‘Rain accompanied with cloud or storm’
Ga = means ‘Way or frequent passage’ (Karih in Ruangmei)
It is reported that different types of birds either coloured or brown could be seen coming towards the light that spread from the lanterns or lamps on a moonlit night whenever there is fog accompanied with drizzling of rain. There is an unnatural force that pushes the birds to fly across the valley whenever there is drizzling of rain accompanied with fog in the moonlit night and when the light is seen the birds are attracted. Such is the phenomenon in which the birds converge towards the light. They do not commit suicide but when they approach the lamps to attack the light. Those people watching the phenomenon catch the birds and make good dinner out of the meat of the birds. It is really interesting to see such mysterious phenomenon taking place at Jatinga. It is happening every year during the autumn season and the tourists or visitors try not to miss the chance/season to visit this mysterious JATINGA. It is also said that those birds are migratory birds coming from the southern Himalayan region and when the winter approaches and becomes colder, the birds migrate towards the south. When their approach is blocked by the high Barail Mountain Range, the birds are forced to fly up the mountain range along with the westerlies, the wind that blows from Meghalaya side, south west of the earth.
Haflong, the capital of North Cachar Hills, Assam is named after our first settlers – Zeme people called the place “Haplua” meaning “Hillock of crying people”. There is a rocky cleft near the place where the goddesses or witches used to cry during night time. The frequent cries kept the first settlers seized with fear. They named it “HAPLUA” , then the name was misnomered by the Britishers as HAFLONG. History reveals that the original settlers of Haflong were the Zeliangrongs (Zemes) who came between the 13th and 14th centuries. When the Ahom king chased the Kachari king in the 16th century, he along with his flowerers all left Dimapur and came down towards North Cachar Hills and settled at Maibang. They also made Maibang, their capital. The town is now well developed and kept neat and clean. Lodiram, a part of Haflong town inhabited by our Zeliangrong people having more than 300 families is growing in prosperity. We could see those Christian and Heraka families living together and competing among themselves to produce educated children like doctors, engineers, officers and social workers. Of course many are also struggling to send their children to good schools and colleges by doing business, driving autorickshaws and operating taxi services.
Shillong city is located in the south western part at a distance of about 240 kms. from Haflong, N.C. Hills. If more educated people are settling in Haflong town, it will become more neat and clean; the town dwellers will grow economically better and shall become a centre of tourist attraction. The natural beautiful lake located in the centre of the town needs to be properly maintained and beautified by providing certain amenities for the tourists and visitors like that of Ward’s lake of Shillong so as to ensure the real centre of tourist attraction.
LODIRAM, NORTH WEST OF HAFLONG:
We could watch with so much amusement at the dances performed by the young boys and girls of Heraka Cultural Club and Gaiphunlong Cultural Club of Lodiram and Haflong respectively. Their rhythmic steps, drum and cymbal beatings added to the pleasure of sights and sounds. The young Naga boys and girls showed keen interest and enthusiasm to perform beautiful cultural dances praising their Creator God and God given beautiful lands. The town really looks beautiful when the colourful and beautiful people like Kaningbe Jeme, Ijirang Jeme, Samsadin, Ramkuing, Zilliang Pamei, Allan Pame, Ahung Riame, Kirangle, Awangle, Kangsui Jeme, Elizabeth Rongmei, Kennedy Kamei, Rebecka Kamei, etc adorn the town. I still have a vivid memory of our beloved mother Late Rani Gaidinliu, the Hill Queen, Freedom Fighter and Padma Bhusan Awardee, the cultural, social and religious protagonist/leader who had left behind a legacy of beautiful Zeliangrong cultural heritage which has been preserved by her religious followers – Herakas. The songs accompanied with drum and cymbal beatings are heart touching and really sweet to hear and those who watched the young people performing cultural dances were kept spell-bound. Even some of the onlookers were seen shedding tears, reminiscing those days with the late beloved Hill Queen Ranima.
Lodiram village established by late Herarangbe Newme in 1953 is showing a sign of speedy development. The Rs.1000-crore scam committed by those who were in authority, some top officers and leaders of the District Council has greatly affected the entire population of the district as the employees of all the offices are not paid their salaries for months together. When the salaries of the employees are not paid, even the common people are greatly affected economically.
PROBLEM OF NOMENCLATURE:
There is a burning problem for the indigenous people when the nomenclature of the district has been changed into Dima Hasao (land of Dimasas) from North Cachar Hills in the year 2008 as the Executive Members of the District Council put their signatures for the change against the wishes of the people. When the Dimasas are having more than 40, 000 population, other tribes like Zeliangrongs (Zemes & Rongmeis) are having more than 30,000 population, the Hmars have about 20,000 population, the Kukis are having above 12,000 population and the rest of the tribals like Vietes, Hrangkhals, Vaipheis, Karbis, etc. have more than10,000 population. Among them, the Zeliangrongs have 3 MACs (Members of Council) including 2 Executive Members, the Hmars have 2 MACs having 1 Executive Member, the Kukis have 2 MACs including one Executive Member (yet to be offered) and the other tribes like Vietes, Hrangkhals, Karbis and Vaipheis are given 1 MAC each and the rest nominees were given to Nepalis, Bengalis and Muslims out of the 29 MACs.
FORMATION OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLE’S FORUM:
Indigenous People’s Forum has been formed to voice the burning problems of the indigenous people consisting of Zeliangrongs, Hmars, Kukis, Vietes, Hrangkhals, Vaipheis, Karbis, etc. to the Government for protecting their rights and lands. The Dimasas having the highest population have been suppressing the other tribals because of the dominance in population and Government. Taking advantage of the disunity among other tribes, they have captured political power in the district and allowed the influx of Bodos from Kokrajhar and other districts of Assam. Over and above, the illiteracy and ignorance of the Zeliangrong people, the original settlers of the district is the main cause that they did not know how to protect their rights and lands in the past. The early British anthropologist like Urusula Graham who wrote a book called ‘Naga Path’ has clearly mentioned about the original settlement of the Zeliangrong people (Zemes of N.C. Hills) and written about our ways of life very impressively. There are frequent mentions of Namkia, who was a young married man of Impuai village of N.C. Hills became the interpreter of Madam Urusala Graham wherever she went in touring the Zeliangrong land. Namkia happened to be my related uncle whose forefathers migrated to the North Cachar Hills in the early part of 15th -16th century from DUILUAN (Wairangba in Manipur). Of course originally our forefathers migrated from INTUMA village of Nagaland which dated the 1st century. There was an interesting story about Namkia. When he was asked by Urusula Graham, the British anthropologist in Hindi, “ Aapka nam kia hain?” He replied,”Mera naam Namkia hain”. She asked again, “Aapka nam kia hain?” He replied for the second time, “Mera naam Namkia hain”. Again for the 3rd time she asked the same question and gave the same reply. She got furious saying that he was deriding and challenging her but later on she came to understand the reality. After knowing all the facts and realities about the people, the past British officials and anthropologists have left behind very good report about our people living in North Cachar Hills. It is also popularly said among the people that Namkia used to face some embarrassing situation with the army people at the time of operation whenever his name was asked.
North Cachar Hills is a beautiful hill district but because of the absence of even a jeepable road connecting with Manipur and some parts of Assam, other peoples of the world know little about the people and the land inhabited by the Zeliangrong people in Assam. Had this Tamenglong-Tousem-Haflong Road been opened, the district would have become a centre of tourist attraction because of the beautiful environment, people and its scenic beauty of landscapes of the land. The Government should immediately take up immediate action to link this district with Manipur and other parts of Assam with good road communication to attract outside peoples to visit the land and bring speedy development. Our land is also air-conditioned in all seasons neither hot nor cold. The only thing lacking is good road communication and lack of tourism facilities that outsiders cannot come to see us. If Tamenglong-Tousem-Haflong Road is converted into national highway linking with Kangpokpi (via Imphal-Tamenglong Road) and Bishnupur (via Khongsang and Rengpang), Manipur will be brought much closer to Guwahati and Shillong by more than 100kms.
Shri O. Ibobi Singh, the Honourable Chief Minister of Manipur is a patriot, a man of vision and a true statesman of the land. It is hoped that his positive action to convert the existing aforesaid roads into National Highways will surely bear fruits as he is determined to bring a history for the people of Manipur for her prosperity and posterity.
(D. P. PANMEI)