If you have read any historical book on the Nagas, you would have come across Khonoma Village some time or the other.
Easterine, the first Naga novelist in English, based her book ‘A Naga Village Remembered,’ on Khonoma. The novel narrates the story of this hamlet’s resistance against the invading British Army. Most of Khonoma’s name before the ‘green village’ fame lies on its bravery, which was much talked about all over Nagaland.
Many research scholars have passed through this village looking for a piece of the past. In spite of early contact with the British, the village has some of the best preserved Morungs and monoliths. Except for the tin roofs and few brick houses, Khonoma is your idealistic Naga village in the beginning of the 20th century.
Khonoma today can be easily reached. Our quick tour around the village began at the village junction near the church. Huge slabs of rocks stand in memory of important events in the village. We then climbed the hill and passed through the village gate. Each village has their own gate and they were fortified to protect them from invading enemies.
An old wooden gate still stands to this day. Climbing up those steps I felt like going back in time to those timeless mended walls, wooden houses clinging on the slope; all built several years ago.
The view from the peak was liberating. The village lay sprawled out below with the magnificent terrace paddy fields that formed a yellow belt of river through the lower valley between the crotches of the mountains.
The peak of the hill is the memorial site for British Political officer G.H. Damant, who first came to Khonoma in 1879. He and his army were warned not to enter Khonoma by neighboring villages, but the Political Officer was adamant and decided to proceed with his guards. His courage was in guns and he thought that they were ready to fight off any attack by whom they called ‘the savages’. Damant was killed on 4th October, 1879 leading to a long war with the British who tried to tame the village. On 22nd November the biggest battle was fought between them resulting in the killing of three British officers, namely, Major C.R. Cock, Sub. Major Nurbir Sai and LT. H.H. Furbes. During that time Khonoma was one of the biggest villages and they fought four times with the British. The British had guns but the village had the advantage of ground games as they had efficient knowledge of the place and the stamina to keep up with all the running, due to their agility.
As Mr. Tsile said, the villagers were taken aback by the guns; it was the first time they had seen them. The villagers got hold of a gun and it is still exhibited at one of the Morungs in the village. The gun was heavy and taller than me and it’s hard to imagine how they put it to good use.
In 1880 peace treaty was signed between the British and Khonoma. The village elders still narrate tall tales of the war with pride. But apart from all the boasting, it’s remarkable how such a poor Naga village could fight off British subjugation with nothing but spears and knifes.
We looked up to the mountains where the fiercest war was fought on 22nd November 1879. A tower like pointed structure rises above the tree canopies to mark the place. In the village, a fort rebuilt in 1990 stands as the place of the last battle was fought with the British. The fort was first built in 1825 and the first Anglo-Khonoma Battle was fought in 1850. The second Anglo-Khonoma Battle took place in 1879, which ultimately led to the demolition of the fort. The fort was rebuilt in 1890. Lastly, the demolition of the fort took place 1956 during the Indo-Naga conflict.
After the British, the Indo-Naga conflict was ignited again soon and the village was invaded by the Indian Army. Khonoma was one of the biggest villages before the Indian Army blazed it to the ground in the early 50s. The villagers scattered to different places. Only one-fifth of the total population returned to rebuild the Village. Today Khonoma has around 600 household with a population of around 3000.
There are few Morungs in the village; just kept as they were. These Morungs are like a modern day coffee house or school. It was the centre of all learning during the pre-Christian Era. Morungs are a rarity now. You only see them in few villages and Khonoma is one of them.