Nagaland: I Heard About it Through The Grape Vine.

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January 20th 2011
Published: January 31st 2011
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The Three AmigosThe Three AmigosThe Three Amigos

Ziben, author, and Kitto
Why am I putting on this life jacket in a bus? And why, no matter how hard a struggle, will the little plastic buckles not make the clicking sound that indicates to me that I will stay afloat if the bus goes down? The preposterousness of the acts were evident to me even as my brain was coming up with them in its semi-unconscious state. A hand came out of the haze of my dream and I was shaken back to the reality that I was once again stuffed into a bus seat; legs propped up on all manner of packaged goods and soiled produce, once again stopped in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. The man, heavily draped in cheap Chinese scarves seated across from me, so dressed to protect himself from the damp bite of the northern Nagaland winter weather, was gently wiggling my leg and indicating to me in international sign, that he wanted me off of that bus. Ever since arriving in Imphal, Manipur, I had slowly started to accept the fact that every time I showed my pale face to a man in camouflage, toting a large automatic rifle, that I
Who's Taller?Who's Taller?Who's Taller?

Kitto looking down on me.
was going to have to stop and explain myself. Yes, I was alone, no, I was not here for work and was just a tourist, and no, I don’t need a restricted area permit anymore to be here. The man with the rifle would then look suspiciously at me and Id smile my ‘yes, you are the authority because you have a big gun so I will answer your questions, but you don’t know that Im kind of being a smart-ass to you’ smile. More suspicious looks from the man, a handshake, and the very confusing side head wobble that all Indians seem to use for everything, would all precede my tardy release. The same scenario had played itself out twice that night already, but now it was 3:30am, I was just awakened from a much needed slumber, and things seemed a little bit different, a little more hectic.
The sprawling city-like conglomeration of concrete block buildings and traditional thatched roof dwellings, located in the southern mountain ranges of Nagaland, Kohima, was my first stop after leaving Manipur. Interestingly enough, the Naga people that inhabit the city, made up of representatives from 3 or 4 of the major Naga
The Fam.The Fam.The Fam.

Kitto, Atomi, and Fam.
tribes, seem to refuse to accept the idea that CCR ever broke up. Here John Fogerty is God. This Fogerty worship became quickly apparent to me one chilly evening as I sat in the kitchen belonging to a young man named Kitto, a descendant of the fearsome head hunters of the Sema tribe. In pinstriped suit pants and a snappy woolen coat, strumming and old guitar and belting out Proud Mary with surprising similarity to God himself, it was hard to imagine that just two generations ago, he might have just as easily been decapitating a rival with the all purpose tool/weapon, the dao. Kitto, a family man and employee of the government had a grasp on the proper use of the English language that rivaled my own. Although he had seen many American movies and listened to the rock and roll of my mother’s generation, it had been over fifteen years since he had met another American and he was excited to have, what he called, a ‘real American’ in his presence. He viewed our meeting as the perfect chance to work on his ‘American’ pronunciation and build his vocabulary of slang American terms. I was told one night,
Fruit Vendor.Fruit Vendor.Fruit Vendor.

Random pic in front of my doomed bus.
the Indians in ‘mainland’ India are more technologically advanced, but the people of Nagaland prided themselves on being more westernized, and in particular, Americanized. Being a country boy from small town Wyoming, it seemed like a giant undertaking to represent the vernacular of the people of the entire United States, but I gave ‘er hell. Boy howdy, I sure do hope I done a good job with the dude! When our evening of rock was through and the last of the Kingfisher was drained, Kitto dropped me off at my chilly, dingy abode for the night, gave me his cell phone so that we could stay in contact, and told me to call him in the morning.
My first foggy morning in Kohima found me cruising through the narrow mountain roads straddling my new Harley. As the wind blew my hair back and I twisted the throttle up to full bore, I figured that that must have been the way Kohima was meant to be seen. Kitto had lent my his automatic scooter, affectionately dubbed the Scooty Pep, to ride around the streets for the day, but this is my story, so Harley it is. That night, huddled around the
Stuck AgainStuck AgainStuck Again

Just one of the times the bus got stuck on the way up to Mon
cooking fire in Kitto’s kitchen, the three bachelors if only for the weekend, including Ziben, a friend of Kitto, cooked dinner, swallowed even more of the technically illegal to possess substandard swill, and swapped stories until it dawned on us to eat dinner at half passed eleven. It occurred to me that night, after all of our discussions over the two days, that no matter where you find yourself in the world, you will always be in good company. Men, worldwide, are basically the same simple creatures and I had just stumbled on two very good dudes. Brothas from otha muthas as I taught them to say.
Ever wonder what a wedding in Nagaland might be like? Naw, neither had I, but when Kitto suggested that I accompany him to Dimapur the next day in order to attend the wedding of his wife’s cousin’s brother’s best friend’s nephew, (basically Kitto’s Uncle. I never really understood the relationship) I really couldn’t think of anything Id rather do. My first Naga wedding! If you are wondering what kind of interesting rituals might be associated with a Sema wedding, just picture a nice Christian wedding at home, but way fancier and with

The village of Longwa with the hills of Burma in the background.
the best food you can imagine. Oh yea, and no booze! Since the arrival of Christian missionaries in Nagaland in the early part of last century, something like 98% of all Naga people are now Baptist Christians, and therefore the weddings are just about as boring as Christian weddings at home. Kitto, being a true guy, had us stay just long enough to shake some hands, introduce me to about twenty people who’s names Ill never remember, load up on tasty food, and scram without a single tear being shed. Our night was spent around the fire at Kitto’s Eldest brother’s house in Dimapur, sharing Seagrams whiskey and what was hopefully purified water. Atomi (add a ‘c’ and I become explosive! As he would say to me) at the ripe old age of 56, regaled us with stories of his childhood on the run from Indian troops. Their father, the first Naga to graduate from a proper school, was also the leader of a rebel group fighting the Indian army for an independent Naga country. As a result, Atomi painted verbal pictures of fleeing into the jungle and having to live off the land while he and his family were
The King's AbodeThe King's AbodeThe King's Abode

A view of the longhouse belonging to the King of Longwa. Interestingly, half of the longhouse sits in India and half sits in Burma
being pursued. By the time he was five years old, he had been in jail three times and watched his next brother be born while incarcerated. It was a hard life, he told me, and by the time he finished his education, he had changed schools fifteen different times in order to stay ahead of his would-be captors. Despite his somewhat rough and imposing exterior, gentleness seemed to flow from him every time he laughed and smiled. He was genuinely happy to share his stories, food, and home with an unexpected visitor such as myself. Being invited into the life of this family for three days and being treated like royalty, asking for nothing in return of me, but a new and interesting experience, has proved to be one of the best experiences Ive had on the road. It is experiences just like these, the kind that can not be planned using a guidebook, that remind me why I get out and travel. All good things must come to an end and the next afternoon, after saying our much abbreviated goodbyes, Kitto left me at the bus station to wait for my overnight bus ride to the northern Naga village
The King of Longwa's ThroneThe King of Longwa's ThroneThe King of Longwa's Throne

This is a pic of the throne belonging to the King of Longwa. The Konyak tribes still view the King as the leader of their village. He also acts like the Chief. Unfortunately, I was not able to get a pic of the man himself.
of Mon.
The automatic rifles of varied shapes and sizes with their large, loaded clips were present, but the men in camouflage that I had become used to seeing carrying such weapons, were strangely absent. These men had no uniform and seemed extremely agitated about something. Large boxes and bags were being hurled off the roof of the bus and were being cut into, displaying their agricultural innards.

“Are you a foreigner?” a man with a rifle asked me.


“Is this your only bag?” The man was pointing to my mud covered bag on the side of the road.

“Yes. What’s going on? Should I open it for you?”

The man with the rifle spoke slowly to me in abbreviated sentences that got right to the point. “No. You are a foreigner. This is not about you. Please go sit down. Relax. Sorry for the inconvenience of you”

“Whats going on?” I tried prying.

“Something bad is happening” he ominously, but vaguely told me. “Go sit down”

Raised and agitated voices kept getting louder as all manner of packages and luggage kept raining down off the roof of our
Old Manbutt.Old Manbutt.Old Manbutt.

Sorry about this one. Enjoy!
stalled bus. These were unsystematically torn apart and examined for what I could only guess. At one point, a rather large knife appeared from a bag. More yelling in the unintelligible, nasally language I couldn’t understand kept getting more excited and the man who occupied the seat in front of me in better times, found himself on the wrong side of an angry fist before having to pull himself out of a puddle of putrid mud. It seemed things were quickly escalating to the point where something ‘very bad’ was bound to happen, when it seemed the gunmen found enough to call off the search. Being allowed to return to a bus, liberated of many of its belongings, all I could do was wonder what had just happened. I often find myself out of the loop while traveling because of a language barrier, but even the few people on the bus I knew to speak a little English were hesitant to tell me what had just happened. At one point somebody murmured “terrorist” to me over a plastic cup of steaming hot Chai, but that’s all I found out. Sitting there with significantly more leg room, all I wanted to do was get a few more hours of sleep and get on with my journey to visit the Konyak tribes near Mon, in northern Nagaland.


31st January 2011

Everytime I read this shit, Im just glad you arent captive some where. Peace Brother!
31st January 2011

Awesome blog!
Many thanks for sharing. I've long been interested in this area, particularly Mon, so am massively looking forward to your next blog!
1st February 2011

Thank you for the interest. Coming from a real traveler like you, it is a real compliment. Im a huge fan of your travels as well as your writing. After some of your experiences out there, Mon area might seem tame at first, but if you give the area enough time, money, and patients, I know there is much to explore and learn. I have become fascinated with the Naga culture and history. If you do visit the area, everyone there told me it is the best in April when all the Konyak villages celebrate in massive festivals. It sounds like a wild and hair raising time! Enjoy man, and keep the stories a coming.

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