By Eleanor A. Sangma
They came for them at night.
Milam (two-edged sword), selu (spear) and sepi (shield) in hand, the A.chik matgriks (warriors) marched silently towards the British camp near Chisobibra. They would not yield their home to the Raj, the rori (outsider).
From hills and plains, they marched. Quiet, like the night itself.
Hush! Were those footsteps?
They’ve come for our heads!
And so, a battle ensued.
Here, a warrior crying out, Ka Chalang, Ka Sangma, Ka Marak; there, another bellowed, Hai…hai…kai…kai…re’tokbo
Shots rang in the cold winter night, the metallic smell of blood lingering for long. The fight raged on till darkness gave way to light. A splash of red, here, there, everywhere they looked.
Pa Togan Nengminja Sangma, along with a few other names such as Pa Gilsang Dalbot Sangma and Pa Gowal Nengminja Sangma, were at the forefront of the battle.
He (Pa Togan) had come up with the idea of using plantain skin to counter the guns used by the opposing army. They had heard of a new kind of spear, which could shoot out fire and penetrate human body. After much contemplation, Pa Togan had concluded that the moisture in plantain would douse out the fire. So, they surrounded their parameters with layers of plantain.
They also made armours and shields out of the same.
Unfortunately, the plantain shields proved to be futile. As the fatal bullet hit Pa Togan Sangma’s chest, the great matgrik fell. The Simsang river, crimson with blood, carried the essence of his sacrifice throughout Garo Hills.
Do we recall our own history? How does the present remember the past?
Jovyn said he remembers watching a reenactment of A.chik warriors on TV as a kid. “All decked out in the traditional garb, carrying a mil.am and sepi, they’d go ‘hai..hai..’” he chuckled. He had also read a couple of books recounting the A.chik fight for freedom from the British rule.
“I guess everyone would surely recognise the name Togan Nengminja and know the gist of the story. But, the details are a bit murky even in my head.”
He feels that with the passage of time, the younger generation are forgetting stories of warriors such as Togan Nengminja. “We know they fought for our freedom, we know to respect them and all they did for us. But many don’t know how they did it or the kind of life they led.”
This is the very reason why Jovyn has always wanted to make a documentation of such stories. “I want to preserve the life and deeds of these warriors, our ancestors. At this point, our knowledge base has become limited; the people who possess such knowledge are also disappearing with time.”
Before it completely fades away, he aims to do his own comprehensive research and document the life and death of A.chik warriors, in a way that would pique the new generation’s interest.
“Till now, I haven’t been able to accomplish this plan because of lack of time and resources. However, I do want to see my vision come to fruition as soon as possible. It’s important for me as I want to do my bit in preserving our history and culture, certain aspects of which are fading from people’s consciousness.”
Llewellyn R Marak, in the introduction to his one-act play on the warrior, wrote that Pa Togan Nengminja must have known that the ill-equipped A.chik army would not stand a chance against the British army. He was ready to die fighting rather than hand over his home to outsiders.
People also harbour the notion that Pa Togan Nengminja, Pa Gilsang Dalbot and Pa Gowal Sangma did not have much knowledge about the guns used by the British. However, Marak wrote, they did know how the guns worked; they used plantain shields only to encourage their army to fight valiantly.
“I think the whole plantain situation makes people think his battle strategy was kind of silly,” Kamkam Cheran said, while laughing.
The aspiring writer who is pursuing his Master’s Degree claimed, “But when you actually think about it, he was on the right path. He made a protective gear for himself and their army of warriors with whatever knowledge he had. The only problem was with the material he had used. I think it was rather brave of him to have come up with such an innovation.”
He agreed with the notion that people are forgetting such stories. “It is important to remember him because he is considered our very first freedom fighter in recorded history. Yes, including these stories in the syllabus is great. But there should be a better way of presenting them to the younger generation, so they will be interested to listen and remember.”
He added that there might be other warriors who did not make it into the archives, and remain nameless and faceless.
There are stories of a warrior whose feet were two cubits each in length, and another who could destroy a pile of wood with a single swing of his sword. Admittedly, oral storytellers had a flair for the dramatic. Nevertheless, it is a duty of ours to remember these matgriks in the same way they carried out their duty to our motherland.