Sky Is My Father

By Easterine Kire

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After the tiger kill, the men did not pay any more attention to field work. They were too preoccupied with accumulating arms and ammunition. The younger men were taught the rituals of war, for it had been a long time since the village had gone to war against another village. The new age-groups were ignorant of a man’s role on the battlefield. The preparation for a battle gripped the village. And it ran its course like a fever around the village, this urge to go to war. More and more men spent nights at the thehou and at the dormitories, mapping out strategies and telling and retelling tales of former victories in battle. Levi was part of it all, soaking it in like a pleasure long abstained from, and all the more delightful therefore. He returned to it as to a former mistress, all thoughts of family flown from him.

His wife did not chide him but she pressed down her fear on the nights he stayed away from home. Their sons were still very young, Roko was five and a half and his brother Sato not yet three. Sometimes men came to call Levi away early in the morning. They spoke in hushed voices so Peno never knew what they conferred about. Afterwards, Levi would pull his body-cloth onto his shoulder and simply say, ‘I have work,’ and leave. She never asked questions when he was called away, nor did she try to stop him going. This was part of being a warrior’s wife. Long ago, her mother-in-law had warned her about this but she had still said yes, she would be Levi’s wife.

The rains eased off in late September, and there were long balmy days of sun in October helping the long-eared paddy to mature. Women were anxious to harvest, for the tension was so great by now that they expected to be attacked any day. Another week of sunshine passed and harvest began in earnest. But on the second day of harvest, Golhu returned from Kohima. In great haste, he called the men together.

‘Chaha and his men are preparing to attack us, be ready. He has rounded up several soldiers.’ Thereafter, the men left the harvesting to the women and devoted themselves to strengthening the forts. The next day Zakiesielie Chase came to the village to call the men for coolie work. Zakiesielie was working as dobashi for the white man. The men of his village said to him,

‘We are not going to be coolies anymore for the white man. You too, Zakiesielie, do not go back.’ So he remained behind in the village. In the following days, preparation for defense of the village escalated.

The men fortified themselves so well that they were ready for a full-scale war. It was for this reason that the rituals of Liede had been done early, so that they could begin the harvesting. Expecting a protracted period of war, the women and children were shifted to the villages of the Sopfü and Bakieria. On the morning of 14 October 1879, Mr Damant, Political Agent, left for Khonoma. He had an escort of twenty-one military and sixty-five police troops. Damant’s intentions were not clear to the men of Khonoma. He had said at the Kohima office that he was proceeding to assess the situation at Khonoma. Reports had reached him that Bengali traders had sold old muskets to Khonoma men. The Political Agent chafed at Khonoma’s stubbornness to yield to British administration. He viewed the many raids as symbolic defiance of the Government. The forcible collection of taxes he had undertaken had met with strong resistance. It angered him. Enough to make him write: ‘I would demand revenue from Khonoma and Jotsoma in the coming cold weather and in case of refusal realise it by force of arms; I believe the struggle must come sooner or later and it is to the interest of the whole district that the matter should not be deferred.’

Damant and his men were soon sighted by the waiting warriors. The men of Khonoma saw an aggressive procession of armed soldiers ascending the path to their village. The soldiers came via Jotsoma and climbed up towards Khonoma from the direction of the lower Thevo clan. The approach to the village was striking with a steep precipice to the one side and a high wall to the other side of it. Young men of the village, armed with spears and daos and muskets, stood in a long line upon the wall. Damant and his men had almost marched up to the village gate when a single shot was fired. It struck the Political Agent on the forehead and he fell to the ground, dead.

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