The Making of u Kiang Nangbah

By H H Mohrmen

Winter is always cold and dry and the colour of the rolling hills turns brownish because the grass on the hills has withered due to the frost. Everything looks dull because the trees have shed their leaves and the chirping of the birds has also fallen silent.  All around the earth looks dull and dry; but winter is only a preparation for the onset of spring. Winter may be associated with cold and dreariness but it is also pregnant with hope for the new day; the new year; the new spring which will rejuvenate the earth once again. The cycle of the seasons with all that is going around is the magic of the nature that plays out before us.

Like the dreary winter, the period before U Kiang Nangbah rose to prominence was crucial because though it was a very difficult time for the inhabitants of the Jaiñtia kingdom, yet it was an important juncture in their history. It was a difficult time for them because their King had just been defeated and the entire territory of the kingdom was annexed to the British Empire. But like a seed buried in the ground, it was just waiting for the right moment to burst from its shell and rise above the ground.

Jowai was then a small hamlet comprising of the localities we now call Pohchnong. The said area would comprise of five or six localities at the most. The locality we now know as Pohskur or Mission compound came up only after the Missionaries arrived and settled in the area, hence the name Pohskur or Mission compound which obviously means the place where Christians live which also  distinguishes it from where the non-Christians resided.

The section from Mission Compound onwards was then the outskirts of the town where some portion of the area was and is still being used as a cremation ground or the place where the different clans’ ossuary are located. It was then a common practice that cremation grounds or clan ossuary were located away from the residential areas of the village.

The fact that the British government built the office of the Sub Divisional Officer of the Jowai Sub Division and the Police Station at the Iawmusiang area also confirms the fact that the area was then in the outskirts or far from the public settlements. At Iongpiah there is place called Iaw-Iongpiah which was the centre of Jowai till the Iawmusiang Market was established in its present location. It may also be mentioned that now there are two types of local markets in Jaiñtia hills; ïawniam and ïaw District Council or local market. Ïawniam are those managed by the raid and the particular market has religious significance while other markets are managed by the community under the supervision of the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council.

In Nangbah village till date there is a locality called Iawmusiang where there are huge collections of monoliths. The story goes that  Ïawmusiang market was originally located at Nangbah village but at some point of time it was shifted to Jowai.  The Daloi of eleka Nangbah would occasionally offer sacrifice and pay obeisance to the gods of the Iawmusiang market, but the Iawmusiang in Jowai is not a religious market because no ritual is performed for the market’s sake except for the Kbai Mooknor which is traditionally an announcement held every year about the ensuing Behdieñkhlam festival of the Raid Jwai.

The people who live in Jaiñtia hills then were predominantly Pnars who lived on the northern part of the state and on the southern slopes towards the plains the area was occupied by the War people or the War- Jaintia. But at the time when the Jowai Subdivision was established by the British; it also catered to the needs of the Bhoi or the Karbi people of the then Mikir hills. Apart from the office of the Sub Divisional Officer; the first Police Station was also located adjacent to the SDO’s office.

Politically it was just about a decade since the Jaintia King was defeated by the British and the land was annexed to the Kingdom. With the removal of the Jaiñtia King from his office by the British the majority of Dalois (chieftains) were also treated as agents of the foreign government. They then became a sort of mechanism to only help or assist in the execution the order of their new masters.

Prior to the Jaintia kingdom was a flourishing one with its border extending from Jaintiapur in the South to Cachar in the North. The Jaintia kings even minted their own coins, which are now on displayed at the Museum in Kolkata. Perhaps of all the Khasi and Jaiñtia monarchies, there are records of only the Jaiñtia king who issued his own coins. Not only trade with the other communities flourished during the reign of the Jaiñtia Kings but they were also better equipped to defend  themselves in terms of military might. The canons which can be found at the Shiva temple in Nartiang and few at the Museum in the State Central Library, Shillong are classic examples of the military might of the King during the glorious days of the Jaintia Kings.

After the Jaiñtia King was vanquished, the then British government promised to pay him a pension and he continued to stay in the plains. Although the British had annexed the land and removed the King from his office, they retained the office of the Dalois for their own vested interest. The office of the Daloi remained the liaison between the government and the public. After the fall of the King, the different elekas also entered into a conflict with each other; there were stories of one eleka fighting against the other or one raid against another and even one village against the other. It is therefore safe to say that before the rise of u Kiang Nangbah, there was no unity amongst the Pnars and the British exploited this fissure in the community to the hilt.

We have stories of eleka Nangjngi fighting against the people of eleka Nartiang and Shangpung against Raliang and even village like Nongtalang fought a hard long battle with the Padu and the animosity continued till Padu decided to become part of eleka Jowai, in spite of the fact that they are much closer to the Nongtalang in terms of the language they spoke and the culture and tradition they followed. This was the prevailing situation in the Kingdom before u Kiang Nangbah took the mantle to lead the revolt against the foreign rule.

People were farmers and the major crop of the area was rice. Unlike the War people who continue with their jhum cultivation, the Pnars in the North had advanced to wetland cultivation. The lives of the Pnar farmers revolved around rice farming and their religion was closely interlinked with the community because there was only one religion then. Even their festivals and celebrations were dictated by the different seasons which also went hand in hand with their farming practices. And since rice was a major crop it also had huge influence on people’s lives.

The importance of rice is evident from the fact that they used rice for everything from, staple food, to making rice beer, different snacks and we will see later how rice has so much connection with the revolt of the Jaiñtias against the might of the British.

U Kiang was a young boy when the Jaintia Kingdom was annexed to the British Empire and Ksan Sajar Nangbah his maternal uncle was at the forefront in the first Jaiñtia rebellion against the British. The young boy was so moved to hear from his mother the story of how Ksan his maternal uncle fought against the British soldiers and which led to the defeat of the Jaintias in the hands of the foreign invaders. The revolt not only went in vain because they had lost to the British, but it was also a great humiliation that they had to bow down to foreign rule.

The period before the revolt had all the necessary elements to produce a leader like u Kiang Nangbah; a man who used his sword with the swiftness of the tiger or u Khla Ka Wait.

It is in this context that we have to examine past history without forgetting the downsides that go to produce real  heroes.  In fact heroes are born in testing times because a life without challenges pushes people to complacency and to a comfort zone. Heroes are only born in periods of strife.

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