The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

miscellaneous papers, notebooks and letters on Nagas by Ursula Graham Bower, 1937-1947

caption: scarcity in Impoi - report
medium: notes
person: Ritening/ of ImpoiBaker/ Stuart <S.D.O.Perry/ Mr.Booth/ Mr.
ethnicgroup: Zemi
location: Impoi Gareoloa Asalu Gamvom Ngalsong Hakaokhang Tole Pangmual Longkhai (Longkai)
date: 10.1945
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1937-1946
person: private collection
text: Scarcity in the Impoi Group of Zemi Villages, North Cachar Hills.
text: 1) The community has three main sites, Impoi, Gareoloa and Asalu. Impoi is the original settlement with Gareoloa as alternative, and Asalu is a slightly later addition. The community has owned all three for some 300 years. Villages at Impoi and Gareoloa were large (130-140 houses) but at the hotter Asalu never exceeded 90- 100. There were 77 houses there about 1900, but 'flu in 1918 reduced them to 50. There are now 48 houses, 22 of them at Impoi, 15 at Asalu and 11 at the satellite village of Hakaokhang.
text: 2) After Impoi was first founded a family of Kabui origin - now known as Habeingtsami kindred - settled there. Later on, one of them sent a colony from Impoi to found Gareoloa. Later still, one of them was dobashi to the Kachari Kings and was offered a grant of and as a reward for his services, the King suggesting positions near Mahur or Guilong. The Naga refused both as being too hot and unhealthy, and asked for confirmation of the existing family holding of Gareoloa. The King agreed, but as the country there was wild, cold and steep, he named only a nominal tribute, and made gifts in token of the grant. The present heirs are Rintening and his sons, of Impoi.
text: 3) The community has practised cycle-migration through their three sites from time immemorial. About 1800 they vacated Gareoloa for Impoi, and a generation or so later moved on to Asalu, where most of them were when the country was taken over. A dissentient minority of the Neomi clan settled near by at Hakaokhang, but rejoined Asalu about 1860. A remnant village lasted at Gareoloa till about 1920, when it joined Asalu. By 1920 the Asalu land had been occupied for nearly a century, Gareoloa land needed some rest, and Impoi was due for re-occupation.
text: 4) When the subdivisional head-quarters was at Asalu, a Kuki community settled at Tole, on Asalu land. Asalu protested, but were told by the then S.D.O., Mr Stuart Baker, that all the land was now Government's and would be disposed of as Government saw fit. About 1925 a colony from Tole occupied the vacant Gareoloa site, and when village boundaries were laid down these Kukis received Gareoloa site and land and most of the land attached to Impoi, Impoi site alone being left on the edge of Asalu's territory, so that the Impoi land were left with only the worn out land they were due to vacate. In the last ten years a fresh Kuki settlement has appeared at Pangmual, on Longkai land, and has been accomodated with land taken partly from Longkai and partly from Asalu.
text: 5) The Impoi group formerly had common frontiers with Hangrum and Peisia, this wide territory being made necessary by the extremely steep country and the scarcity of jhum-land. By 1920 they had lost five-sixths of their former area to the Kukis and were penned in a worn-out fragment with only the unhealthiest and least important of their sites left to them. By 1930 the exhaustion of their land was obvious, crops were steadily worse, and the village wished to move in accordance with ancient practice. Their position was not understood, and they complain that they were repeatedly dissuaded by dobashis from approaching the S.D.O. in the matter. After the political troubles in 1931 it was increasingly difficult for them to get a hearing, but in 1938, after several attempts, permission was obtained by Namkiabuing, a former dobashi and a Habeingtsami, and he led a party to re-settle Impoi. There was a sight improvement as a result of the move (Impoi would at least appear a healthier site), but the position of the group as a whole remained serious.
text: In 1942 descendants of the Neomi dissidents re-settled Hakaokhang, but the site has proved unhealthy and most of the land there has now passed to Pangmual.
text: 6) On the re-settlement of Impoi there were protests from the Kuki colonies at Gamvom and Ngalsong, on the Impoi and Gareoloa land. Their land-boundary with Impoi proved to be about a quarter-mile from that village, and Impoi asked for an adjustment to avoid cattle-trespass. After inspection, Mr Perry re-drew the boundary midway between the two villages. The Kukis of Gamvom refused to accept this and twice appealed to the D.C. On rejection of the appeals, they persisted in jhuming the land in spite of Impoi's protests, defied S.D.O's orders when the matter was reported, and were eventually punished for a long series of offences. They still threaten to recover the land by hook or crook, and the Kukis of Ngalsong, on the Gareoloa site, are breaking up and desecrating Naga monuments and graves there.
text: 7) Crops worsened rapidly after 1930, and in 1941 there was complete failure due to insect-damage. Mr Booth sent a dobashi out as far as Laison to assess damage, which was widespread, but the total loss in the Impoi group was never recorded at the office. When famine began in June 1942 it was unexpected in Haflong and no provision for relief had been made. The villagers themselves had made no move to get help and even pressed me not to report the famine, because in a time of scarcity many years before some villagers had taken what they understood at the time to be free relief, but later found to their horror was a long-term loan, and this was only paid off with difficulty after a house-to-house levy, so that most of the burden fell on men who had never eaten the rice they were paying for. They were thereby convinced that relief was a Government scheme to profit by their distress, and when free rice was sent by Mr Perry they could only with great difficulty be induced to take any. I had to promise to make any repayment required before the genuinely distressed villagers would take even a seer of it, and Mr Perry had much the same experience. As rice was sent up as soon as the famine was reported there were no deaths from hunger, but measles caused some casualties among the children.
text: 8) During the famine the men were fully occupied in finding edible tubers or working in Kuki or Kachar fields, where a day's labour earned a seer or two of rice. A day in their own fields meant a day without food in the house, so they had to neglect or abandon their own cultivation. During 1943-4-5 most Kukis and Kacharis refused to part with rice against money, insisting on labour and paying in rice at their own valuation, which involved the Impoi group in a vicious circle. In 1943-4 14 men of the group served with "V" Force and the military made a free gift of rice to relieve distress in the villages, but when "V" Force was disbanded in November 1944 the group had a poor crop of only a few weeks' food and had to return at once to the system of working for rice. During 1945 the cash wage was Rs 1/- for a day's fieldwork, and in rice, enough dhan to make 2 seers when pounded.
text: 9) As all have had to work for food this year to the neglect of their own crops, the yield this year is poor, even by the standards of Asalu, where the worn-out land will grow rice only 12" to 18" high. There was extensive damage by wild pig and on a lesser scale by rats, and as a final straw a party working for the Americans at Daotuhaja was involved in a trolley-smash when being taken to work; four of them were seriously injured and incapacitated for the whole cultivating season, and have lost their entire rice crop and so far had no compensation. At present (October,1945), out of the 48 houses in the group, 16 have just sufficient to feed themselves for the year; 25 have food for a few weeks only and 7 are already destitute. Impoi are the best off (8 out of 22 houses can feed themselves for the year) but Asalu and Hakaokhang are in straits and virtual famine will prevail in the group from April onwards.
text: 10) The Impoi group still mistrust Government's intentions and would prefer to get out of their difficulties unaided, but with their land growing daily more useless they cannot possibly survive without outside help. This destitution is no fault of theirs, but results from misunderstanding of the Zemi cycle-migration system and consequent alienation of land which they really need. It may be added that this apparent disregard for Zemi needs and rights helped to form fertile soil for Gaidiliu's rebellion; though it was quite unwitting, the Zemi thought the alienation deliberate, with unfortunate effects on his attitude to Government. The Impoi group is one of the best in North Cachar, and is quite the most likely field for tribal development and improvement of all kinds. Once on their feet the group will make every effort to help themselves; they are an honest, decent and self-respecting community and deserve and are well-worth the necessary assistance.
text: 11) I would suggest the following measures:-
text: A. Immediate.
text: 1. Free relief to make up all households to a year's supply of rice, and so make them free of outside field-work and able to concentrate on their own. A loan should ON NO ACCOUNT be offered. Help MUST be a free gift, or not at all.
text: 2. Transfer of the small Kuki settlements of Gamvom and Ngalsong to a less congested area and restoration of enough Gareoloa and Impoi land to the group to secure them a livelihood for the future. They should have the land in time to jhum it in 1946, and so make themselves independent of further relief.
text: B. Short Term.
text: 1. Once good land has been provided, the present Asalu and Hakaokhang villages should move to it and leave the Asalu land fallow.
text: 2. The Impoi group cannot now recover the large territory necessary to support itself, but it should without fail be allowed to keep the present Asalu land after fresh land is provided, on the understanding it must lie fallow for years to come, and they should be given every help in repairing and re- habilitating it for future needs. It is almost wholly under thatching-grass and is in very bad condition.
text: C. Long Term.
text: Asalu is the first warning of what will happen in the Barail area if it continue to carry a larger population than the land can support by jhum-cultivation. A similar situation to Asalu's is already developing round Laisong, and other parts will follow suit. The only solution lies in wet rice terraces. Matters at Asalu and Impoi have already gone so far that this cannot be an immediate remedy; they must be given fresh jhum-land to relieve their chronic distress, but eventually wet rice terraces must be introduced both here and in the rest of the area. Unfortunately, attempts at introduction hitherto have been largely failures, and since 1942 it has not been possible to find the trained staff required for a new attack on the problem. Existing wet rice fields are all in valley bottoms, and not a single hill terrace survives of those constructed; all had to be abandoned as hopeless failures, destroying any faith the Zemi had in the method. Later, attempts to coerce them into terracing were made, much as a child is made to eat spinach because it is good for it, and in one case a village was penalized because fields failed through a defective nullah. Altogether the Zemi have a most unhappy impression of wet rice cultivation and will now take a great deal of conversion. The only thing likely to convert them is a set of successful terraces and a Zemi household waxing fat upon them. If terrace cultivation is not pressed and vigorous measures not taken to relieve the pressure on land, the authorities must be prepared for progressive scarcity in the Barail area from now onwards.