Retelling a great victory as witnessed by the Nagas

But the story of the battle that brought the world to Kohima can’t be told without the making of Kohima. And in telling Kikon writes poignantly about how Kohima came to being. “It did not tale exactly forty-six years for the British to establish the headquarters at Kohima. For the many who died in the vicious battles, it was a lifetime. For the villages destroyed as a result of the resistance of the British onslaught, it was a millennium,’’ writes Kikon. 

The book has a list of the number of losses suffered by Nagas under the numerous expeditions led by British forces. This table has 48 entries beginning from 1827, in which 4 villages were ‘subjugated’ as punishment or in 1876 Captain Butler is killed in an ambush at Pangti and then Pangti burns—illustrates the attacks were routine. Compiled from Gordon P. Mill’s Tribal Transformation: The Early History of the Naga Hills these attacks were carefully noted, making deaths a normal part of bureaucratic procedure. 

Vividly told, and evocative, Kikon has chosen to set the record straight. It is also the story of the defeat of the Japanese. So, there is Lt. General Kotuku Sato on a mission to capture Kohima within the shortest time. (He loved his baths in a bathtub). Sato fails and refuses to obey his superior Lt. General Mutaguchi. He had no ammunition, lost 3000 soldiers and had 4,000 wounded soldiers in his camp. Mutaguchi told him “If your hands are broken, fight with your feet, if your hands and feet are broken, use your teeth. If there is no breath left in your body, fight with your spirit. Lack of weapons is no excuse for defeat,’’ Kikon quotes Mutaguchi. Sato refuses to follow the directive, and goes back, risking court martial.

Littered with details from the other side. And memories of Subhash Bose in Nagaland as well as the stories of valour by Nagas—including General Yambamo Lotha’s attack on the Japanese forces where he took 78 or 87 heads, the book is essential for anyone who wants stories told by the Indian side. It was the Nagas, finally who threw their lot with the Allied forces that proved to be the secret ingredient for a win. Their stories that deserve to be told, their stories that need to be read. 

Book: His Majesty’s Headhunters—The Siege of Kohima that Shaped World History by Mmhohlumo Kikon

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Price: 599

Pages: 193