It’s not every day that you stumble onto a non-fiction book that expertly fuses the past and the present, but Easterine Kire’s Walking the Roadless Road: Exploring the Tribes of Nagaland does it effortlessly. The book is packed with reliable data on the different Naga tribes, starting from the origin and cultural practices, to the circumstances, and effect of the two World Wars, in relation to the underground Naga political leaders. It portrays the transformation and present scenario of the Naga tribes. Through the book, Kire also attempts to dissolve the negative outlook of Naga people, often portrayed by the mainstream media as a ‘ferocious’ and ‘savage’ community.
Walking the Roadless Road is divided into four sections, each including a total of eight chapters. The first section ‘An Overview of Nagaland’ starts off with both the historical and the mythical origin, the written and unwritten historical accounts of the various Naga tribes. She then moves on to providing a detailed description of the land, from the geography and geology of the Naga Hills, flora and fauna to the structure and architecture of the Naga villages. This section also talks about the varied social and cultural Naga practices such as headhunting and spiritual pagan beliefs.
The second section ‘Christianity and the Naga Society’ and the third section ‘From British Colonisation to Statehood’ depicts the conversion of Nagas to Christianity after the onset of American Baptist Mission, and the involvement of Naga people in World War I, Battle of Khonoma, and Battle of Kohima, and the aftermath. The emergence of the Naga identity, their desire of being independent of any country, post war, is included in this section as well.
‘Turning Points in Naga History’, the fourth section highlights the key moments in Naga history and addresses the 21st century scenario of both traditional and modern Nagas. The deterioration of Naga culture because of their migration to urban areas, and young Nagas pursuing careers outside their homeland is being seen as an alarming issue by inhabitants in Nagaland. The section also talks about the efforts made to preserve the culture through eco-tourism and celebrations like the Hornbill Festival.
Incorporating everything essential, from their humble beginnings to their current state, Kire, masterfully allows readers to take a closer look at one of the most unique communities in the country. The structure of the book is organised and the language is easy to follow. One of the best things about the book is the author’s ability to pique your interest from the get-go and hold it till the very end, which does not happen in a lot of non-fiction novels. The book never gets monotonous. Even though the whole book provides noteworthy information about the Naga community, the death rituals and the spirituality of certain tribes are particularly fascinating.
If you are captivated by the history and socio-cultural circumstances of Naga people, then this is the book for you. It’s not a fast read, and shouldn’t be considered as a leisurely read either. It’s a thought-provoking, and well-researched book that can act as a dependable source for researchers. Also, prior knowledge of certain historical events such as the two World Wars, the British colonisation and a little about Naga ethnicity can help understand the book better.
The book does a great job to erase all negative stances that most outsiders hold of Nagaland and its people. The epilogue highlights the quintessence of being a Naga and how they preach ‘healing by listening’ to heal past violent emotional wounds. A sound philosophy, in the disguise of an end lesson, that stays with you even after you finish reading the book.
By Anindita Hazarika
This feature was first published in Eclectic Northeast July 2019 issue