Borduria-Namsang Conflict refers to the history of 151 years of conflict between the two most powerful Nocte chiefdoms - Borduria and Namsang - which started in the 1800s and ended in 1951. There was a time when they were capable of waging war against the powerful Ahoms, who ruled Assam for six hundred years.
In the early 18th Century, the chiefdoms of Borduria, Namsang, and Laptang were under the rule of one Chief. The last known ruler of the undivided chiefdoms was Tham Wang. He was the son of Lotha Khunbao, popularly known as Saint Narottam. After accepting Vaishnavism in 1717, Khunbao and his people frequented Jeypore (Assam), and one day, chose the ascetic life and handed over the affairs of his state to Tham Wang. As per the Ahom Chronicles, Khunbao died in 1747.
Back then, the throne was at Laptang, and Tham Wang ruled the entire present-day Tirap district. In between 1750 and 1790, Tham Wang, in his death bed, established his eldest son, Wang Lat, at Borduria. The second son, Wang Nyo, ruled Laptang and stayed with him there. The youngest son, Wang Dyep, accompanied his eldest brother. But after some time, Wang Dep went back to Laptang, where he fell sick and died.
In the 1800s, Tham Wang died and a disagreement broke out between Wang Lat and Wang Nyo, on the subject of their father’s burial. The Borduria Chief argued that since he is the eldest son, he retains the right to bury their father. On the other hand, the Laptang Chief argued that since he had taken care of their father until his death, the burial right was his. In the end, Tham Wang was buried in Borduria, causing bitterness in the heart of the Laptang Chief.
Before long, Wang Nyo decided to abandon Laptang and set up his rule at Namsang. The abandoned Laptang was taken over by Wang Lat, but Wang Nyo never surrendered his title. Wang Dyep’s son, Ponlang was made the Chief of Laptang and became a subordinate to Borduria. Another son went with Wang Nyo.
Wang Lat and Wang Nyo established parallel rule in Tirap and all other Nocte chiefdoms were under their rule. Skirmishes took place between Borduria and Namsang on a frequent basis.
Nearing his death, Wang Lat was worried that he did not have an heir to rule Borduria when he dies. To solve this problem, he planned to kidnap the eldest son of his brother. Therefore, he bribed a Namsangia to identify the eldest son of Wang Nyo. Acting on the informer’s tip, the soldiers of Borduria kidnapped Wang Nyo’s son when he was fishing in the river.
Later, Wang Lat sent a messenger to Wang Nyo and assured him that no harm shall come to his son and the only intent of the kidnapping was to make him the Chief of Borduria. This message pacified the Namsangias. However, it is still a disputed matter whether the kidnapped son was Wang Nyo’s eldest or youngest. Though he became the chief of Borduria, Wang Nyo’s son came back to Namsang. His stay in Namsang was brief because his mother persuaded him to return to Borduria. She believed that if Namsang and Borduria is ruled by her sons, it will end the conflict.
When Wang Nyo died between 1800 and 1830, his son, the Borduria Chief, came to Namsang for the funeral. He was welcomed by his brother, the Namsang Chief. In the funeral feast, a white buffalo and a white elephant were sacrificed to honour their father’s memory. When the meat was distributed among the brothers, Borduria Chief received the ribs of the elephant and Namsang Chief received the ribs of the buffalo. In Nocte culture, the ribs of an animal are considered as a sign of respect.
After the feast, the Borduarias returned home. A few days later, the Namsangias informed the Borduria Chief that they had taken the ribs of a buffalo, instead of the elephant. This act amounted to a gross insult. Symbolically, it meant that since the Namsang Chief received the elephant ribs, he is elder than the Borduria Chief and thus the paramount ruler of Tirap. This resulted in uncountable skirmishes, killing many, and it did not matter they were brothers from the same womb.
In April 1834, both the Chiefs of Borduria and Namsang realised that their conflict is not helping anyone, and decided to bury the hatchet. For a peaceful resolution, they approached the Mahanta of Bali Satra at Jeypore (Assam). Bali Satra was the place where their great-grandfather Lotha Khunbao met his Guru, Sri Ram Dev, and was initiated into Vaishnavism in 1717. After hearing the argument of Borduria and Namsang, the Mahanta told them that, they were under the influence of an evil spirit and a prayer must be performed. During the prayer, they were sworn in not to quarrel thenceforward.
But on their way back, the Namsangias attacked the Borduarias. In the attack, the Namsang Chief, nicknamed Angulikata, which means severed finger, killed the Borduria Chief. The Namsangia Chief fled away with his companions and stayed at their first settlement at Naga Khat (now Namsang Tea Estate, Jeypore, Assam) where he died later. He probably settled in Pontuan, a Nocte village in Assam since 1814.
It is interesting to note that, during a war between two such Chiefs, the commoners are forbidden to kill a Chief. If a Chief is found to be injured during such a course of action, he was left untouched on the spot by the opposite party with a distinguishing sign with leaves, so that a commoner keeps himself away from doing any harm to the injured Chief. A Chief can be killed by a Chief only.
Since 1536, Nocte and Ahom used to fight over the ownership of salt-wells. Namsang and Borduria had the highest number of salt-wells. Many bloody battles took place between the Noctes and the Ahoms in this regard. Their trade relation grew only after the Nocte chief, Lotha Khunbao accepted Vaishnavism and ensured peace between the two powers. After Namsang and Borduria became two entities in the 1800s, constant battles between the two Nocte superpowers disrupted the supply of salt to the Ahoms.
To ensure a steady supply of salt in the kingdom, Ahom rulers often intervened in the feuds of Namsang and Borduria. For instance, as mentioned earlier, in April 1834, Borduria Chief was killed by Namsang Chief called Angulikata. After this, Ahom king, Purandar Singha arrested Angulikata. This event had been recorded in the Ahom Buranji by Rai Sahib Golap Chandra Barua (p.387) in this way:
“In Lākni Taoshān, in the month of Dinchit (Baisākh), the Nāmsangia and Barduariā Nagas fought with each other. The Barduariā Khunbāo was killed. Nāmsangia Lāthongia Dekā fled away. The news of the Nagas’ affairs was informed to the King and the three Dāngariās. The King ordered the sepoys to punish the Nagas. The sepoys arrested the Naga Khunbāo called Angulikatā and made him over to the King. The King ordered the Naga Khunbāo to be heavily chained.”
After the British defeated the Burmese Kingdom, it annexed the fallen Ahom Kingdom in 1838. Like the Ahoms, the British Government too could not do away without the Namsangias and the Borduarias. They were quickly brought under British influence and contact. They established their friendship, alliance, and remained a frontier guard as before. Their fame even reached Burma. The importance of the Chiefs of Namsang and Borduria was so vital that whenever there was a revolt or a raid or a cause of harassment directed by other tribes over the Ahom or the British subjects residing in the foot-hills, help from the Namsangia and Borduaria Chiefs was inherent.
Captain J. Brodie, Principal Assistant (1838-51), Sibsagar, Assam, was the first to settle some standing feuds between Namsang and Borduria. In the year 1841-42, Brodie visited these two villages to bring them under the full control of the British administration. He asked the Namsangia and the Borduaria Chiefs to bring all disputed to the notice of the government for settlement. But peace was never guaranteed. The feud between Namsang and Borduria grew so much that in 1853, Captain C. Holroyd, Principal Assistant (1852-61), Sibsagar, Assam, called a meeting with the Chiefs of Namsang and Borduria, where it was decided to post one European Officer at Jeypore to deal with any tribal dispute.
In 1938, British officers at Sadiya, Assam, approached Wangkap Lowang Rajkumar to become a Political Jamadar and help them to put an end to the conflict between Namsang and Borduria. Wangkap was the Chief of Pansumthong and the cousin of Namsang and Borduria Chiefs.
Even after India got independence from British rule on August 15, 1947, the conflict between Namsang and Borduria was not fully extinguished. However, there was no more bloody conflict. In an extraordinary feat, in 1948, the Chiefs of Namsang and Borduria formed the famous Namsang Borduria Fund, an agreement with the Government of India.
Soon after Independence, Tirap Frontier Tract was formed and it included the present Tirap, Changlang, and Longding districts. In August 1948, B.K. Borgohain became the new Political Officer of the Tract. Wangkap Lowang Rajkumar, along with Towang Lowangdong, Chief of Borduria, Dangwang Lowangdong, Chief of Namsang, and other Nocte, Wancho leaders, extended their goodwill and solicitously invited Borgohain to pay visits to their areas. From the following winter, he started paying periodic visits to the tribal areas. His attention was more diverted towards the Namsang Borduria Control Area and the Unadministered Area west of Tisa river. The people trusted him because Borgohain belonged to the Ahom royal family, with whom Namsang and Borduria had good trade relations since time immemorial. He earned such confidence that he did not require armed escorts (Assam Rifles of the Indian Army) to visit the prohibited zone of the Unadministered Area, where no one was considered safe by the British Government after the murder of Lt. Holcombe and 79 others in 1875 by the Wanchos of Nyinu village.
In 1951, B.K. Borgohain ended the 151 years old conflict between Namsang and Borduria. He was physically present when the conflict was ended traditionally. The border of Namsang and Borduria was demarcated and a Nomey, which means agreement, was reached. To seal the agreement, Suamkat from Namsang beheaded a dog belonging to Borduria, and Janpi from Borduria beheaded a dog belonging to Namsang. Wangkap Lowang Rajkumar as a Political Assistant, under the Government of India, played a pivotal role in ending the conflict between Namsang and Borduria.
1. Barua, S.N. (1991). "Tribes of Indo-Burma Border".
2. Dutta, P.C. (1978). "The Noctes".