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Haipou Jadonang Malangmei – Forgotten Son of India who Resisted Missionaries’ Attempts to Proselytise the Nagas

Author: Ankita Dutta
Publication: Myind.net
Date: August 30, 2020
URL:      https://myind.net/Home/viewArticle/haipou-jadonang-malangmei-forgotten-son-of-india-who-resisted-missionaries-attempts-to-proselytise-the-nagas

The standard Leftist narrative of history-writing has left no stone unturned to conceal the very much Hindu (Sanatan) past of North-East India. Not a single academic study has been undertaken to bring to light the relationship between the rise of Christianity and the simultaneous growth of secessionist movements in this part of the country. Informed by strong ideological underpinnings, the existing literature seems heavily lopsided. The NCERT textbooks on Indian history have generally ended at Bengal, with only a passing reference to the Ahom dynasty of Assam. It is the Left’s hypocrisy and intellectual arrogance that has failed to delve into the history of India’s North-East, its rich past and civilisational heritage, and some of its glorious, yet unnamed, unacknowledged freedom fighters.

Haipou Jadonang Malangmei (10.06.1905-29.08.1931) is one such Naga freedom fighter who fought tooth and nail against not only the British colonialists but also the predatory proselytisation activities of the Christian missionaries. He belonged to the Rongmei tribe of the Nagas, which falls under Zeliangrong that represents a combination of four cognate groups – Zemei, Liangmei, Rongmei, and Inpui. The Nagas have had their own religious belief systems predating other religions, including Christianity. It was in the early 1920s that Christianity had started making significant inroads into the then princely state of Manipur, which was almost wholly Vaishnavite at that time, and its neighbouring areas.

Jadonang was one of the first persons who claimed himself to be the Guru of his tribesmen, with the objective of liberating them from the clutches of the British. He was aware of the Kuki Rebellion (1917-19) and had seen the movement of the British platoons in his village. Respected widely in the community for his spiritual and healing powers, Jadonang’s religious and social activities increasingly became popular among the masses, which naturally irked the British. In fact, the idea of ‘Zeliangrong Fraternity’ was first popularised by him during the course of his freedom struggle against British imperialism. Short-sighted and divisive policies of the successive Congress governments at the Centre led to the trifurcation of the Zeliangrongs’ extremely resource-rich contiguous land and its people in the states of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland after India attained Independence.

Haipou Jadonang was born in 1905 in a poor peasant family at a remote village called Kambiron (Puilion) to Thiudai Malangmei (father) and Tabonliu (mother). This place is situated in present-day Tamenglong district of Manipur, on the Bengal-Manipur-Cachar road, around 12km away from Nungba – one of the few important roads that connected the state with the outside world. Young Jadonang and his elder brother Mudunang closely watched the movement of soldiers, officials and traders of Manipur through this road. Their dubious activities such as the forcible collection of house tax, the oppressive porter system, and the missionaries’ preaching about the Gospel of Jesus, etc. left a deep impression in the mind of young Jadonang.

Jadonang felt that the rising proliferation of Christianity was an instrument of British imperialism to weaken the indigenous societies and their native religious systems from within. Driven by necessity, many Zeliangrong families had converted into Christianity, hoping that their appeasement of the British would somewhat lessen their economic burdens. It was towards his late teens and early adulthood that Haipou Jadonang’s ideas about the revival of indigenous Naga culture, political struggle of the Nagas against the British, social change, etc. gradually began to take shape.

It is believed that Haipou Jadonang had a very unique and extraordinary childhood to which his mother was a close witness. He visited places like the Zeilad Lake in Manipur (a centre of spiritual and religious importance for the Nagas) where he used to go into deep trance for several days at a stretch. He came back with miraculous powers of foretelling the future that left the common people in complete awe. He also popularised the use of various local herbs and medicines as healing agents for treating the sick who had come to him seeking a cure for their illnesses.

Kambiron soon transformed into a prominent place of pilgrimage for those in need and the centre of attraction was the charismatic, young Jadonang. The people of Kambiron looked upon Jadonang as Mhu, meaning, a spiritual guide, healer and preacher. He was officially declared as the Mhu-Ren after the observance of a ceremony called Ralen-Loumei, i.e. worship of all the local deities of the Zeliangrong Naga pantheon including Lord Vishnu. It was after this ceremony that Jadonang, along with a few other pilgrims, went to the pre-historic Bhuvan cave near Silchar, Assam. Here, they worshipped Lord Vishnu and another local deity called Tingkao Ragwang, who was believed to be the supreme deity residing in the cave.

The Bhuvan cave gradually became a sacred spot where, it is believed that Haipou Jadonang personally communicated with Lord Vishnu. It was during the course of his frequent visits to the cave that he came into close contact with the Rongmei Naga settlers of Cachar district in Assam. Thereafter, he used to visit almost all the villages in Cachar treating the sick, praying for the dead, and interpreting people’s dreams. The Zeliangrong Nagas had looked upon Vishnu as the chief deity of welfare and all-round prosperity of men and all other living beings in the universe. In the Zeliangrong pantheon, Lord Vishnu is known by different names such as Monchanu, Bonchanu, Bisnu, Buisnu, etc.

It was after his spiritual journey to the Bhuvan cave that Jadonang had erected an east-facing temple called Rah Kai (House of God) with the help of his followers, chiefly as a place for worship and religious discourse. The locals here worshipped the deity of Tingkao Ragwang through hymns, devotional songs and dances, etc. that were introduced by Jadonang himself. The temple was erected by Jadonang towards the east for it signified the direction of the Bhuvon cave and as well as that of sunrise. All these gradually led to the introduction of two new religious cults – Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak (TRC) and Heraka (pure religion) – under the moral guidance of Jadonang and his cousin, Haipei Rani Gaidinilu, another brave female Naga spiritual leader, respectively. It represented a significant landmark in the cultural and religious history of the Zeliangrong people.

Heraka is a monotheistic cult which believes in the worship of only Tingkao Ragwang (the Supreme Being), incorporating the lesser gods and deities within its fold. Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak, on the contrary, is based on polytheism or the worship of multiple gods and goddesses, although it places supreme emphasis on the worship of Tingkao Ragwang. The evil spirits (Rahsi-Rahrou) are not worshipped but they are propitiated so as to save humanity from their trouble. With the help of these cults, Jadonang, together with the support of Gaidinliu, was not only able to bring about a social unification of the Zeliangrongs, but also posed a formidable challenge to the silent religious aggression of the Christian missionaries. However, it is to be noted here that these new cults of Jadonang and Gaidinliu did not, in any way, preach or promote anti-Christian teachings.

Increasing Christian proselytisation activities became a serious issue for Jadonang who wanted to preserve and promote the traditional religious beliefs and practices of the locals. He was quick to realise that if the traditional religion was to be saved, the morass of superstitions and irrational taboos that afflicted it had to be removed and new ideas introduced in their place so as to keep pace with the changing needs of the times. He organised his people against religious conversion programmes of the missionaries by encouraging the construction of temples called Karumkai that were adorned with several images of the python in the Zeliangrong-dominated areas.

Although some Western writers and historians such as F.S. Downs have condemned the ‘Naga-Raj’ Movement of Haipou Jadonang as anti-Christian, it is a completely wrong and one-sided criticism of the underlying beliefs and ideology of the movement. Their fight was all about saving the age-old, indigenous belief systems of a community from usurpation by a foreign faith. Notably, it faced stiff opposition from not only the British, but also several other neo-Christian converts among the Nagas.  

The Christian missionaries depended upon the colonial authorities for finance and political protection. In turn, they supplemented the efforts of the British colonisers by trying to convince the natives about the so-called “civilising mission” of the colonial state through the provision of social goods such as education, medical care, etc. In this way, the missionaries had also gained the trust and confidence of the gullible natives, which made their conversion agenda much easier.

Visualising the future of ‘Naga-Raj’ or ‘Makam Gwangdi’, Jadonang started organising the common Naga people in the Zeliangrong areas (currently falling under Manipur, Nagaland, and Assam) so as to put up a united resistant force against the one common enemy that was the British. Raising the slogan Makameirui Gwangtupuni (meaning, ‘the Nagas would rule one day’), he envisaged the establishment of an independent Naga kingdom by putting an end to inter-village clashes and communal tensions among various tribes.

He travelled across lands inhabited by his fellow Nagas, seeking support for his political leadership. It is said that he would often travel on horseback, wearing formal British attire so as to avoid detection. However, the British officials got a wind of it in 1928, and S.J. Duncan, the then Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) appointed by the British, confronted Jadonang one day while asking him to dismount himself from the horse and remove the hat that he was wearing. Jadonang refused, and so he was taken to Tamenglong, where the British interrogated him and ordered him to spend a week in jail.

The news of Jadonang’s arrest, which coincided with the arrival of the Simon Commission in India, raised his mass popularity further. Jadonang decided to militarily challenge the might of the British Empire after his release from jail. With this purpose in mind, he organised the Heraka army known as Riphen that also consisted of a separate battalion for women under the leadership of Rani Gaidinilu. It was extremely well-trained in local military tactics such as spear-hurling, gunpowder-making, etc. handling of weaponry and conducting reconnaissance missions. Armed with weapons, personnel and an innate understanding of the local terrain, it also assisted the civilians in their day-to-day livelihood activities such as farming, livestock rearing, and firewood collection, among others.

Jadonang even composed songs in praise of the Nagas’ struggle against the British. He established military alliances with various neighbouring tribes of the region residing in the North Cachar Hills, Naga Hills, and Tamenglong Sub-Division. Such was his popularity that some tribal communities even offered taxes and tributes to him, in whom they found a messiah, a leader. He warned the locals to be on a constant vigil against the secret missions of the British Government and also alerted them about the missionary menace of the Church. As an agent of the British, the latter was carrying out a malicious campaign to first denigrate and then destroy the native religious and cultural practices including the local gods and goddesses of the natives.

Although the British Government in India had adopted a policy of non-interference in the social and religious affairs of the Hindu society after the Revolt of 1857, but, in the context of the North-East, this never actually happened. The Church continued to flourish with the aim of helping the British secure their rule in this extremely resource-rich part of the country. The post-Independent Indian state too, under the garb of “charity”, actively facilitated these sinister activities of the Christian missionaries that have only expanded with time. It smacks of an agenda so strategically engineered that the entire North-East was eventually made to appear in the rest of India as a region that had always been Christian-dominated.

In an agreement that was reached in the 1960s between Jawaharlal Nehru and noted anthropologist, the late Dr. Verrier Elwin, the entry of sadhus was formally banned into the state of Nagaland. The Christian population increased from a mere 20% in 1947 to a whopping 88% as per Census data of 2011. Nehru had also appointed Elwin as the Anthropological Adviser to the Government of NEFA (today’s Arunachal Pradesh). Elwin was of the belief that India was never a nation of one people with a shared heritage, and that the tribal were the “original aborigine inhabitants”. It was this exclusivist preservation policy of Elwin that gave a free hand to Christian proselytisers, led to inter and intra community hostilities and the creation of a “separate” Christian state of Nagaland. Also, lack of basic knowledge among the local population about the spiritual meaning and philosophy behind their faith, eventually turned the tide in favour of Christianity. 

Well, coming back to the story of the brave Haipou Jadonang, he was deeply inspired by M.K. Gandhi’s call for ‘Satyagraha’ and ‘Civil Disobedience’. After 1930, he gradually intensified his activities against the colonial state, aided by the Church. He appealed to his people to stop the payment of all forms of taxes immediately. This offended the British Government more and it now came to recognise Jadonang and his activities as an open threat to their authority and legitimacy in the North-East. It was a ruthless British policy that every revolutionary or rebel who questioned its power was to be convicted as a murderer. The stories of Bir Tikendrajit and Thangal of Manipur, Khudiram Bose, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Raj Guru, Surya Sen, and many more, aptly prove it.

Following the order of J.C. Higgins, the then political agent of Manipur, Jadonang was subsequently implicated and arrested on a false charge of murder of four Manipuri betel-leaf traders. On August 29, 1931, at the young age of merely 26 years, Jadonang was hanged till death in full public view by the orders of the British Government on the banks of the Nambul river behind the Imphal Jail. He embraced death fearlessly.

Haipou Jadonang is still revered as a great saint and socio-religious reformer among the Nagas of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland. Every year, August 29 is commemorated as his death anniversary, especially in the Zeliangrong inhabited areas of these states, with patriotic songs, dance and festivities. In his birthplace at Kambiron village, August 29 is observed as Martyr’s Day by the Jadonang United Sports Association (JUSA) in collaboration with the Haipou Jadonang Memorial Trust and the Puilion Village Authority.

It’s high time that our future generations learn and know about the story of this firebrand leader and great son of Ma Bharati. His strong resistant movement against the British rule and Christian missionaries has, until now, been totally neglected and ignored by the Government of India. It is easy to use academic jargons such as ‘Hindu revivalism’, ‘cultural appropriation’, etc. to attack organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) when they have at least made an effort to make people aware of these forgotten heroes. Referring to the tribal as ‘animists’ and hence different from Hindus has just been another ploy of the Leftists to keep us divided and fragmented. Nature-worshipping, or what they call animism, is very much a part and parcel of Sanatan Dharma that respects life in all its forms. History that has been taught to us through one standard narrative has failed to give due recognition to these less-known, unsung heroes, of which Haipou Jadonang is only one among them.


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