The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

published - Chapter II, 'Detailed Report on the Naga Hills Expedition of 1879-80', Capt. P.J. Maitland

caption: death of Damant at Konoma
medium: reports
person: DamantSomama khelTheboma khelChitonoma khel
ethnicgroup: AngamiHatiagoria
location: Kohima Khonoma (Konoma) Jotsoma
date: 13.10.1879
person: Maitland/ Capt. P.J.
date: 1880
person: India Office Library, London
refnum: IOR L/MIL/17/18/24
text: Orders were about being issued by the Government of India to hold in abeyance all schemes for coercing the Angamis, when an event took place which compelled an immediate recourse to arms, resulting in the expedition detailed in the following chapters.
text: (22) In the beginning of October, about the time the 44th Native Infantry was commencing its move towards the North-West Frontier, some slight disturbances occurred among the Hatigoria Nagas, a tribe occupying the country to the east of the Angamis. Mr. Damant's presence was consequently required in that part of the hills to make inquiry into the affair. But before leaving Kohima, and weakening the garrison of that post by the withdrawal of the escort which he would of course have to take with him, he thought it necessary to ascertain what was really the disposition of the people of Konoma and neighbouring villages. At the same time he wished to impress on them, quietly, the necessity of paying their revenue, which had not heretofore been exacted, and of complying with the Government demands for labour. Whether or not Mr. Damant intended to make any requisition for arms and ammunition, and whether he conceived his handful of soldiers and police was sufficient to enforce his demands, should they be resisted, will never be known. It would appear, however, to have been the impression among those who accompanied him, that Mr. Damant's principal object in visiting Konoma and Jotsoma was to obtain the surrender of arms; and it is therefore probable that the same idea existed in the minds of the Angamis.
text: On the 13th October 1879 Mr. Damant left Kohima with an escort of one Jemadar and 20 rifles, 43rd Assam Light Infantry, and 66 frontier police, including two Sub-Inspectors. He went that day to Jotsoma, and halted there for the night. At Jotsoma he appears to have been well received; and it is understood the "dobashia" of that village warned him against going to Konoma. He was again warned the next morning when on the road, but persisted in his intention.
text: Mr. Damant appears to have marched his party without any interval between the advanced guard and main body. He himself was at the head of the latter. Jotsoma coolies carried the baggage. On arrival at Konoma the baggage was left in the fields at the foot of the hill, in charge of about half the escort; while Mr. Damant ascended the steep path with the remainder.
text: A survivor relates: " We approached the village by the lower road, and passed along the outside of the Somama Khel to the entrance of the Theboma Khel. The gate was found closed. Almost immediately on the arrival of the party at the gate, two shots were fired, killing two men of the Frontier Police. The Nagas then opened a heavy fire, and four men and the Political Agent were killed."
text: The path into the Theboma Khel is a narrow one, along the brink of a precipice,-on the one hand a steep cliff, on the other a loopholed wall of stone; in front the gate also loopholed. From such a trap as this the party had at once to retire. They took cover in the jungle and returned the fire from the village, but found themselves surrounded by the enemy, and were speedily forced back. At the same time the baggage guard at the foot of the ascent was attacked. The party collected to some extent in an open space below the hill and defended themselves in a field of high "dhan" till 1 P.M. They then endeavoured to retreat on Kohima, but were closely followed by the Nagas, bodies of whom also blocked the paths in the rear. All their leaders having fallen, the detachment broke up; and the remnants being attacked by men of Jotsoma, and the Chitonoma Khel of Kohima, they were utterly dispersed. For seven days wounded and exhausted survivors continued to creep into Kohima, until at last about 50 of the original 87 soldiers and police had returned. When all had come in, the loss was ascertained to be as follow:- killed,- Mr. Damant, ten of the 43rd Assam Light Infantry, 25 police, and two domestic servants: wounded,-5 sepoys 43rd Assam Light Infantry, and 14 police. Total 39 killed and 19 wounded. Mr. Hinde's report, dated 14th November 1879.)
text: The Commander-in-Chief remarked on this unfortunate affair: " The advance appears to have been made in entire ignorance of the attitude of the Nagas, and with a total neglect of the usual military precautions, the result being as a serious loss of life."
text: After being placed in full possession of all the circumstances, the Government of India addressed the following observations to the Chief Commissioner of Assam: "It is to be (23) feared that Mr. Damant held too sanguine a view of the effects of his occupation of Kohima upon the surrounding villages. From the remarks made by him in his letter of 21st February 1879, which are quoted and endorsed in your Secretary's letter No. 1541, dated 19th August last, it is evident that Mr. Damant believed the transfer of his head quarters from Samaguting to Kohima had very greatly increased his influence in the country. Subsequent paragraphs of his same letter indicate that in reliance upon this belief he was preparing, as soon as the cold season set in, to begin demanding revenue from the Angami Nagas who held the powerful villages of Konoma and Jotsoma, in the tract which the occupation of Kohima was supposed to have brought under our control. Whatever may have been the precise object of his visit to Konoma, the result of the first attempt to deal with a powerful village proved that the situation had been misunderstood; that not only had the influence of our Political Officer over the more warlike and hostile tribes been overrated, but also that the force at his disposal, though it may have been sufficient to garrison the Kohima stockade, was altogether inadequate to support and enforce, in all risks and unforseen contingencies, the measures which he was endeavouring to introduce. It must be admitted that Mr. Damant acted with extraordinary rashness in his conduct of the party which went to Konoma, and that greater caution would have averted the disaster; but, apart from this particular case, it seems to His Excellency in Council that the force at Mr. Damant's command, military and police, in the Naga Hills, was insufficient for the double task of furnishing a strong escort for the Political Officer moving about such a country with the object of extending (however gradually) his authority over a savage and warlike clan, and for securely holding at the same time the head quarter station and the outposts on the lines of communication. Moreover, Kohima itself was not in a proper state of defence; and the road from Golaghat had not been completed." (No. 1321.-P., dated 5th February 1880.)
text: " It is no imputation upon an able and energetic officer, whose premature death in the discharge of his duty is greatly regretted by the Government, that events have shown his general course of proceedings to have been not in all respects well judged. There are grounds for the opinion that the force required to carry out the policy of imposing (however tentatively) British authority upon the Angami Nagas, had been underestimated, and that the work was begun too soon, before the position at Kohima had been satisfactory established, and before the reserves, communications, and other precautions necessary to secure and support our operations had been adequately provided for."