In 1875, the Wanchos from Nyinu village killed 80 men of the British East India Company. The British retaliated and create chaos among the Wanchos. In 1876, the Noctes successful negotiated for peace with the Britishers on behalf of the Wanchos.
On February 1, 1875, Lt. Holcombe, Assistant Commissioner of Sibsagar, and Capt. W. F. Badgley along with a party of 197 men reached Nyinu chiefdom. The party comprised of Britishers, Indian Sepoys, Gurkhas, Khasias and Nagas. Out of that 42 were soldiers of the 44th Sylhet Light Infantry, 12 policemen and 141 coolies. It was probably the first interaction of the Nyinu Wanchos with people of those races and vice-versa.
The journey started from Jeypore (Assam) and the primary mission of Holcombe’s party was to explore and secure the Eastern Naga Hills and then rendezvous with a military detachment under Lt. R.G. Woodthrope, who was accompanied by Capt. John Butler, Political Agent of the Naga Hills and others, South West of the Eastern Naga Hills.
Holcombe’s party arrived Nyinu when the chiefdom’s heir, Dingwang Wangham, died, and was being buried in the traditionally manner which was The Tree Burial. One of members of the expedition party found the burial process as "uncivilized", and made an irreversible mistake of desecrating the corpse by hitting it with a baton. This insult was not taken lightly, and as soon as the foreigners moved on, the chief declared war and rallied his allies, namely Kamhua, Senua, Nyisa, Longkai, Kaimoi and Khogla to the cause.
The next day, on February 2, Nyinu led the attack on Holcombe’s encampment. The party suffered heavy casualties, and out of 192 men, 80 were killed (including Lt. Holcombe), 51 were wounded and 66 escaped unharmed. After trekking for days without food, the survivors (including Capt. Badgley) were able to reach Jeypore in the afternoon of February 6.
To retaliate against Nyinu and her allies, by February 10, under the command of Brigadier Nuttall and Capt. Butler, the Britishers had set up a fresh company of 400 rifles drawn from the 42nd Assam Light Infantry, the 44th Sylhet Light Infantry, the Lakhimpur and the Naga Hills Frontier Police. The company reached Nyinu on the morning of February 19 and burned the chiefdom after a skirmish, while its habitant escaped. Then they marched forward and burned the chiefdoms of Kamhua, Senua, Kaimoi and Longkai by March 26.
Nuttall’s company headed back and reached Dibrugarh on April 11. But Capt. Butler was not happy with this quick withdrawal and mentioned in his diary, verbatim – “nothing like adequate punishment for such gross treachery was inflicted, that the expedition was futile, and that it left the hills far too quickly to have made any real impression on the tribe”. Butler’s words became a reality and before the end of the year, another company of soldiers were dispatched to destroyed Nyinu, which had been rebuilt.
As custom dictates, Nyinu had collected the heads of the dead foreigners, and kept them inside a sacred grove called Howchong. However, the Britishers were able to recover seventy one skulls only, and then gave them a proper burial.
On April 15, 1876, a company of 42nd Assam Light Infantry under the command of Lt. R. G. Woodthrope was sent to Nyinu, which had been rebuild again, based on an intelligence that the masterminds behind the massacre were given refuge there. But the Nyinu Chief refused to give up the men. However, later that year, Woodthrope arrested 4 men for the murders and imprisoned them in a Calcutta prison.
Namsang was a powerful Nocte chiefdom, who had old salt-trade relations with Ahoms, the rulers of Assam. In addition to that, Namsang had come in contact with the Britishers as early as January 1839, when an British sponsored American Baptist missionary, Miles Bronson, visited the chiefdom and successful set up a school and taught Romanized Assamese and English. Moreover, Nyinu, Senua, Kamhua and other Wancho chiefdoms used to come to Namsang for trade, especially of salt, among other items.
Nyinu and Senua were the allies of Namsang and the alliance was built upon both trade and politics. The Wancho chiefdoms referred Namsang as Lasa. Due to this close affiliations with the Ahoms, the Britishers and the Wanchos, the Namsang Chief knew their languages and had their trusts.
The British retaliations had displaced families and disrupted the crop cycle of the chiefdoms involved in the 1875 massacre. Therefore, they approached the Nocte chief and requested him to help them make amends with the British. Therefore, the Namsang Chief played a pivotal role in bringing appeasement between the Wanchos and the Britishers.
During this chaos, Namsang saw a silver lining. In order to destroy its rival Wanchos from Niaunu, Namsang told the Britishers that Niaunu was also involved upto a great extent in the massacre. Consequently, Niaunu was burned down by the Britishers at the behest of the Namsang Chief.
After the negotiations ended, the British retaliations ceased and peace prevailed upon the land. And as a token of appreciation, Nyinu started paying a deed of two goats, annually, to the Chief of Namsang.
On the other hand, Kamhua chiefdom presented an elephant’s tusk as a token of appreciation to the Namsang Chief. The tusk was heavy and absurdly large and it was not suitable to travel with it. So, it was chopped off and the smaller part went back to Kamhua and Namsang took the bigger part.
The article Anglo-Nocte Negotiations is an extract from Nepha Wangsa's book The Nyinu Massacre. The book was launched by Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Pema Khandu on November 5, 2018.
Chief Minister Pema Khandu acknowledging the works of Nepha Wangsa.
Advisor to Chief Minister, Tai Tagak, acknowledges the work of Nepha Wangsa.
A family heirloom recovered from Namsang is around 300 years old. The stone tablet contains Buddhist inscription which further cements the fact that the Noctes migrated from the Hukong Valley of Myanmar in 11th Century A.D.