Naga nationalists trace the beginning of Naga resistance against incursions into their territory to the time of the Tai-Ahom invasion in the thirteenth century. The Tai people came from what is today the border between Myanmar and China’s Yunnan province. The Tai (or Shan) people are called Ahom in India.

The Ahom dynasty (1228–1826) was established by Sukaphaa, a Shan prince of Mong Mao who came to Assam after crossing the Patkai mountains. The Ahom dynasty ruled for 598 years; their rule ended with the Burmese invasion of Assam and the subsequent annexation by the British East India Company following the Treaty of Yandabo in 1826.

According to a statement issued by the Naga National Council in 1955 the genesis of the Naga political resistance started in 1228 AD when the Tai invaded Assam. This position was reiterated by Thuingaleng Muivah in an interview in 2009, when asked by journalist Subir Ghosh: “The birth of Naga nationalism is seen by many as the submission of a memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1929. Do you agree that the formation of the Naga Club (in 1918) was the first concrete step towards Naga nationalism?”

Thuingaleng Muivah replied:

“It would be a serious mistake if one thinks that the submission of a memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1929 was the birth of Naga nationalism. The Nagas’ history did not start with this incident. Alien forces in the past had met with stiff resistance from the Nagas—the Shans from the east and the Ahoms from the west, prior to the British intrusion into Nagaland. The British suffered many setbacks from the resistance put up by the Nagas. All these acts actuated from the love of their country. Indeed, Nagas were zealous of their homeland. The formation of the Naga Club and the submission of the memorandum to the Simon Commission are, of course, historic in that the Naga Club officially represented the Nagas and the memorandum expressed the national aspiration of the Nagas as a whole.”

Apart from these statements by Naga nationalist leaders, the oral tradition of the Nagas, including their songs and folk stories, testify to their resistance against Ahom incursions. For instance, Ao Nagas have a song about a warrior called Kumnatoba who led an army of Naga warriors right into Rongpur, the Ahom capital, and killed many enemies young and old, carrying back countless heads as trophies of war along with cattle, utensils and clothing.

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Excerpted with permission from Kuknalim – Naga Armed Resistance: Testimonies Of Leaders, Pastors, Healers And Soldiers, Nandita Haksar and Sebastian M Hongray, Speaking Tiger.