The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

book : Return to the Naked Nagas (1939;1976)

caption: Chapter Two. Feasts Of Merit
caption: a rebellion in Khonoma in 1879
medium: books
person: Johnstone/ Col.
ethnicgroup: Angami
location: Khonoma Kohima
person: Furer-Haimendorf
date: 6.1936-6.1937
text: In 1879 a rebellion started by Khonoma swept over the whole Angami country and the Europeans in Kohima soon found themselves besieged by thousands of determined Naga warriors. Kohima seemed to have been then as peaceful as I knew it nearly eighty years later. No one suspected danger and there were two European women and several children in the station. The garrison consisting of 118 men of the 43rd Assam Light Infantry and Frontier Police had only one day's warning that trouble was brewing and the defences of the post were largely delapidated. The only defensible place was a stockade surrounded by weak pallisades of wood and bamboo, which offered practically no protection from fire. Thatched buildings crowded the enclosure and the only water supply was a spring outside the stockade. Food was short from the beginning, the three hundred and seventy non-combatants having practically no supplies.
text: From the outset communications with the plains were cut, and all runners with letters intercepted by hostile Nagas. Only the outpost at Woka could be informed and its garrison joined the defenders of Kohima. Soon afterwards the attack began. Some six thousand Nagas, including contingents from nearly every Angami village, beset the post. About five hundred of them had fire-arms. (23) Favoured by the ground they could fire into the stockade, and throwing up earth works and barricades, they pressed closer and closer. Soon they were near enough to throw spears wrapped with burning rags into the enclosures, and only the continuous vigilance of the defenders prevented the outbreak of fires.
text: The position of the garrison appeared desperate, but some of the khel of Kohima village maintained a friendly neutrality and ultimately a message concealed in the hair knot of a Naga woman got through the ring of enemies. On the eighth day of the siege the Nagas with deafening war cries attacked in force and the already weakened garrison lost heavily in holding out against the onrush, But three days later, when food and ammunition were nearly exhausted, relief came from Manipur. The Angamis dispersed without a fight as Lieutenant Colonel Johnstone with two thousand Manipuri levies, some Cachar police and his personal escort raised the first siege of Kohima, and saved the five hundred and fifty survivors from almost certain death.