Naga Republic Feature
Dimapur | October 22

In the backdrop of recent public outburst expressing dissatisfaction against money power, party politics and large scale corruption in public life, Naga communities continue to re-live their age-old best practices of selecting leaders and representatives to govern them.

Rooted in the tradition of consensus building and selecting the most capable, this is in contrast to modern day democracy of having elections where money and muscle power prevail to a large extent. At a time when there is popular support in Nagaland for clean and fair election, Naga forefathers were already practicing pure form of democracy within their respective village republic.

That Naga tradition and identity is alive and well preserved was demonstrated recently in the Ao Naga village of Mopungchuket under Mokokchung District. A smooth and peaceful transition of power took place with the elder generation (Riongsanger) vacating their seat in the polity in favour of the new generation (Medemsanger) of rulers.

Spread over four days from October 9-12, 2018, it was a peaceful and smooth affair with a new Putu Menden (Village Administration) of ‘selected’ leaders taking oath of office. About 400 members of the Medemsanger generation of Mopungchuket village assembled from all corners of Nagaland and participated in the different traditional events to mark the changeover.

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Members of the Medemsanger Putu of Mopungchuket village under Mokokchung district, Nagaland are seen here preparing to level a path called Alisümang with freshly cut earth as part of their taking over the reins of village administration from their predecessors, the Reongsanger Putu. This ceremonial paving of Alisümang is a traditional practice in the village that is being undertaken every time a new Putu Menden or Village Administration succeeds its predecessor. Alisümang is located about a kilometer from the village along the Mopungchuket-Milak road and measures about 300 meters in length. About 400 members of the Medemsanger generation participated in the traditional practice on October 12.

The process of taking and handing over of the new administration is generally done after the harvest is completed. On the appointed date both the old and new Putu will formalize the process. The formalities are varied and watched and listened carefully by the concern new group as everything is passed through orally by the word of mouth by holding the spear.

 

The chosen/selected leaders, also known as Tatar will henceforth receive a share of meat of the pig or bull bought with the collection from the inhabitants. According to L. Sosang Jamir in his book ‘Ao-Naga Customs and Practices’, the distribution of responsibilities among the Tatar were regulated on the basis of meat shares, that was, bigger the meat, greater was the responsibility.

“The system of the government run on the basis of meat-share was called Chungle-Yimti Shi-lang”.

Research scholars have often described the political system of the Ao Nagas as ‘advanced and systematic’. It may be mentioned that the structure of the Ao Naga Polity is essentially simple, democratic and effective.

The Putu Menden, which can also be described as the ruling body, is expected to govern the village for the next 20-30 years. This is a welcome change from the frequent and expensive elections that we witness in Nagaland and elsewhere that has adopted the modern form of democracy.

Also the new government of selected leaders is guaranteed political stability till the next generation takes over.
“In every Ao village, the Putu Menden performs the role of an elected assembly to look after the welfare and security of the people living in it and to ensure that friendly relations are maintained with neighbouring villages”, writes noted author Temsula Ao in her book ‘The Ao-Naga Oral Tradition’.

The Putu Menden enjoys legislative, executive and judicial powers. The new village administration can therefore make new rules and annul old ones. According to Temsula Ao, it is because of this that the British administrators recognized the validity of these laws and they became known as Ao customary laws.

The system of Putu Menden was so sound, democratic and attractive that various British administrators and authors have highly appreciated it. Comparable to ancient Greece, these village republics function on the basis of age honoured customs, which served as a great measure of order, peace and stability.

“Our forefathers had the wisdom to rule themselves. We are continuing in this age-old tradition of selecting our leaders who will govern the village”, says a member of the new generation at Mopungchuket village.

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Passing on stories from the old to the new, seen here is an elder from the previous generation or Putu Menden sharing words of traditional wisdom to the new Putu Menden or Village Administration of the Medemsanger Putu of Mopungchuket village.

According to Naga elders whom The Naga Republic spoke to, the political system is such that everyone enjoys full freedom to express his/her will, but at the same time everyone was bound to obey the decision of the community which was taken after full deliberations.

 

“This is the essence of a functional democracy that promotes peace, order and respect for the rule of law”.
Further, at a time when public discourse is centered on the need for clean and fair elections, the wisdom of Naga tradition involved ‘selection’ and not ‘election’. Selection of leaders or representatives is from among senior, qualified men of the clan, those capable of running the village administration and having good knowledge of Ao customary law and practices.

 

According to elders, every Ao man has equal rights to hold any position in the society as long as he is qualified and capable. “The lesson we can learn from our tradition is that an inbuilt mechanism already existed to select worthy people for running the affairs of the village republic”, states a keen observer.

 

And what sets apart the traditional polity from present day democracy is the absence of party politics, money power and the corrupt election system prevailing in Nagaland, an observer points out while making the suggestion to have a relook at some of the relevant practices from traditional Naga polity in order to resolve some of the ills of the present system.

 

(As published in thenagarepublic.com)

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