Northeast India is home to many diverse tribes and Nagaland is no exception, which has a conglomeration of 17 unique tribes. The Angamis are one of the major tribes in Nagaland and have been listed as a scheduled tribe under the 5th schedule of the Indian constitution. Blessed with a glorious history and tradition, the Angamis now mostly inhabit the capital district of Kohima, which is divided into four areas.
Most Naga tribes are known for their exemplary fighting skills and the Angamis too were skilled warriors. Khonoma, a scenic village comprising entirely of Angamis just 20 kms west of Kohima town, bears testimony to the much revered battle glories of this tribe. Just as you enter the village, your eyes are caught by a memorial with the name of the martyrs who had fought the British invaders.
Kejaroko Piero, a businessman and a resident of the village who was gracious enough to accompany me through the bumpy roads of his village said, ‘Our village has a long history of confrontation with the British which started after they came for a survey of the Naga Hills. Since then, they had launched ten expeditions. In 1879, a British political agent named G H Damant had led a troop of 60 soldiers to attack Khonoma. However, 35 soldiers including Damant were killed and 19 were wounded. However, the British soon brought reinforcement from Samaguti, Sylhet, Shillong and Manipur and handed us a crushing defeat. The villagers had to flee Khonoma. In 1882, a peace treaty was signed with the British and the villagers could return to the village.’
Like many other Naga tribes, Angamis also practised headhunting, which was considered as a testimony of bravery. However, they ended this practise in 1905 and were among the first tribes in Nagaland to do so. The Angamis in Khonoma have also made their name in history by banning hunting in the village, in spite of their history as hunters. Even though hunting has been banned in Khonoma, many of the households still possess Tenyi Misi, locally made guns which were used for hunting and also during battles. In fact, some of the guns are almost two hundred years old.
Like many tribes of the Northeast, Angamis have some very unique traditions which they follow even today. As per their tradition, when youngsters attain puberty, they are classified as per their age group. A couple from the village is chosen as the godfather and godmother of that age group. The chosen couple then tutor the teenagers regarding the value and culture of the Angamis.
Angamis also have a parallel justice system. Piero says, ‘Our community punishes the offender based on the gravity of his crime. For eg, if someone commits a crime like theft or robbery, he has to pay seven fold of the amount he steals.’
Social stratification is not observed in the Angami community. Traditionally, property was divided equally among sons with daughters also receiving a share; in modern families, it is shared among children. The youngest male in the family inherits the parental home, Kithoki, which means he is responsible for their care until they pass away.
Angamis practise Christianity and they are divided into five denominations- Baptist, Christian revival, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Seventh-day Adventist. Baptists constitute more than 80% of the total Angami Christian population and all the Baptist churches in the region are under the Angami Baptist Church Council.
Although more than 98% of the Angamis are Christians, they are one of the last Naga tribes with an animist population. The Angami animists practice a religion known as Pfutsana. According to the 1991 census, there were 1,760 Angami practitioners, but 10 years later the figure had halved to 884. Currently, there are several hundred adherents of the Pfutsana religion, scattered in nine villages of the southern Kohima district. A religious organization, ‘Japfuphiki Pfutsana’, was founded in 1987 to streamline indigenous religious practices among the Angamis.
Historically, the Angami religion was that of tsana (meaning ‘way of ancestors’), which was characterized by a belief in spirits. Above all creatures, the chief was Kepenuopfü, who was considered the creator and supreme being of all living creatures. The literal meaning of Kepenuopfü is simply ‘birth-spirit’. The Angamis also had deities called ‘terhoma’ or spirits, but when the missionaries came and translated the word ‘terhoma’, they termed it ‘satan’.
Tendydie, Gnamei, Angami and Tsoghami are the languages used by this tribe with Tendydie being the one most commonly used. Sekrenyi is the most significant festival celebrated by the Angamis. The festival is observed for 10 days in the month of February every year. Literally, Sekrenyi means ‘sanctification festival’. The festival falls on the 25th day of the month of Kezei (according to Angami Calendar) and is celebrated after the harvesting of fields.
There are a lot of interesting rituals associated with this festival. On the first day, which is known as ‘Kezie’, people sprinkle themselves with few drops of rice water drawn from a pot named ‘Zumho’. On the second day, young men of the village assemble in the village to perform ablutions. They adorn themselves with two new shawls, and then ritualistically sprinkle the holy water on their chests, knees and right arms as a mark of washing away all their sins and ill luck.
The fourth day of the festival marks the New Year of the Angamis. It begins with revelry by singing and feasting which lasts for three days. The young people, both men and unmarried girls with shaven heads, gather and sing traditional songs the entire day; the songs relate to past days of valour and bravery. The seventh day is devoted to hunting by the young men of the tribe. On the eighth day, the ritual involves pulling down of a gate (meaning replacing an old gate that demarcates the property). This is followed in the next two days by the people of villages formally exchanging visits and offering greetings. During the period of the ten-day festivities, tilling of fields are banned, this act is called Penyû.
Moving With the Times
Despite carrying on the legacy of their forefathers, Angamis have also moved ahead with time. Piero shared that two-third of the youngsters in his village have migrated outside. Those who stay in the village mainly practise agriculture. Like most hill tribes, they also practise jhum cultivation. However, their specialty is that they use alder trees for cultivation. As the roots of alder trees have nitrogen fixation, it makes the soil more fertile.
Angamis are also known for their beautiful woodwork and handicraft. We met Arhi-U Meyase, an 82-year-old basket maker from Khonoma. He was awarded the Presidential Award for Master Craftsman in 1994. He says, ‘These baskets, made from very fine strips of cane, require a lot of time and attention to detail, and are made completely by hand using only a local variety of cane. However, nowadays due to my weak eyesight, I can’t make more than one basket in a month’. Piero informs that Meyase’s baskets are sold for amounts ranging from Rs 20,000-Rs 40,000.
With a population of over 2 lakh, Angamis exercise considerable clout among the political and social sphere of Nagaland. Angami Zapu Phizo, regarded as the ‘Father of the Nagas’ who had formed the Naga Central Government in 1956 is an Angami and hailed from Khonoma village. Angamis have contributed four Chief Ministers to Nagaland-TN Angami, Vizol Angami, John Bosco Jasokie and Neiphiu Rio. As Nagaland is going through a crucial period in its history, the contributions of the Angamis towards shaping the future of the Nagas is worth remembering.
Written By: Nabarun Guha
This story first appeared in the August 2016 Issue of Eclectic Northeast