U WOH KIANG NANGBAH – A ROLE MODEL FOR ALL GENERATIONS
By D. R. Michael Buam
(Article published in the Souvenir by Jaintia Ïasiat Khnam Kiang Nangbah Memorial Society, Jwai on the 30th December 2012 commemorating the 150th Death Anniversary of U Woh Kiang Nangbah)
As we commemorate the 150th death anniversary of our very own Freedom Fighter and Martyr, U Woh Kiang Nangbah, I am still filled with a sense of awe and admiration for this great Leader and Patriot. He was unique, for so many reasons and more so for the mystique that his name inspires. This may partly be due to the very little information we have about him and his life; though, his name has been immortalised through institutions, roads and buildings named after him.
This article does not seek to state any new facts or give fresh information about our greatest leader but rather portray my own personal insight into his character from what little we already know of him from published works and oral tradition. To be honest, I must state here that the little knowledge I could gather about U Woh Kiang Nangbah has come mainly from the essays and drama of Wh. S. Quotient Sumer and the published works of Dr. S. Lamare; although I did read a little (what was given) about this great freedom fighter in my text books earlier. I have tried to highlight here, those qualities of our beloved Hero and Martyr, U Woh Kiang Nangbah, which according to me are universally relevant for all generations – past, present and future. They are also, what I believe, the most worth emulating.
Endearing and Enduring qualities of U Woh Kiang Nangbah
A Nature Lover
Ever since his childhood, Kiang Nangbah was fascinated and intrigued by nature’s wonderful creatures - both plant and animal. He would ask questions about occurrences in the plant and animal kingdom and the natural environment from his mother and elders and would listen with rapt attention to their explanations. His curiosity knew no limits. He was genuinely interested in the works and wonders of nature and was a keen observer of natural processes.
A Devoted Son
Being an only child, Kiang Nangbah was the centre of his mother’s life as was his mother to him. He was always concerned for his mother and would always look out for her. He would not let her venture out onto their cultivated lands alone and would always accompany her. He was also deeply respectful and obedient to her.
A custodian of religion, tradition and culture
One of the reasons U Woh Kiang Nangbah opposed the Colonial occupiers was their interference in the religious practices of the indigenous tribes. He rightly felt that they had no right to prevent them from performing their religious obligations as has been practised so far. He therefore chose to revolt against the British occupiers.
Kiang Nangbah also never felt inferior or disillusioned with his own culture and tradition. The effects of westernization had no impact on him. It has been said that Kiang Nangbah struck an elderly man for no other reason than that the man had scoffed at him for wearing his traditional dress. When summoned before the Dorbar, Woh Kiang Nangbah defended himself so well that the Dorbar had to declare him not guilty of the charge and was praised instead for his patriotism. They were deeply moved when he stated that it was better for him to die than be deprived of his personal freedom.
A Courageous and upright citizen
The immediate cause of the Jaintia rebellion has been attributed to the taxes imposed by the Colonial occupiers who had scant regard for the religion, customs and traditions of the Jaintias and their way of life. While many gave in to the might of the Colonial rulers, Kiang Nangbah considered it an outrage to be taxed by foreigners. His solid argument was that, an alien cannot demand tax from an indigenous settler. It is the foreigner who ought to pay tax to the local rulers and not vice versa.
A fearless and faithful soldier
U Woh Kiang Nangbah was executed within a few hours on the day of his conviction. He was ready for this eventuality as he knew that he would be executed if he was captured. He therefore faced death fearlessly and unflinchingly. He did not succumb to the tactics of the British occupiers, who promised to spare the lives of those captured freedom fighters if they turned informers and supply information leading to the capture of their comrades. He remained strong in his resolve and accepted death with welcome.
A Law-abiding citizen
Ever since his childhood, U Woh Kiang Nangbah mostly kept to himself and minded his own business. So we can say that he was not a popular person by today’s standards. Yet he was chosen to lead the Jaintias’ fight for independence. He did not choose nor wish to be a leader but he respected the collective wisdom and decision of the Great Jaintia Durbar, the “Dorbar Khad-ar Dolloi”. Therefore, he accepted their proposal to lead the fight against the Colonial occupiers.
A God-fearing Person
Having accepted the decision of the “Dorbar Khad-ar Dolloi” to lead the fight for independence, he wanted his whole being – physical and spiritual to be convinced of this great calling. Being a God-fearing man, he did not want to offend the Creator by taking a rash decision. He wanted a sign from God to assure him that he had chosen the right thing by taking up the leader’s role and responsibilities. So, he declared before the Dorbar that he will finally accept their decision for him to lead the freedom struggle only if he receives a sign to indicate that it is by Divine Will for him to do so.
He told the leaders and the elders of Jaintia Kingdom gathered in the “Dorbar Khad-ar Dolloi” that he would dive into the pool of the Myntdu River at ‘Syntu Ksiar’ and if he could bring back three branches of an aquatic plant bearing three living leaves each, then he would consider it a sign from God, that it is by Divine Will that he has been chosen to lead the fight for freedom from Colonial rule. And that is exactly what happened when he dived at the pool of Myntdu River at Syntu Ksiar.
Many will remember the last words of U Woh Kiang Nangbah because they were the words spoken by a prophet. He was executed by being hung by the neck with a rope from a tree at Iawmusiang, the local market place of Jwai, in full public view on the 30th December 1862.
As he was hanging from the noose, he shouted these words to the crowd that gathered around him, that if on his last breath his head turned towards the east, the Jaintia Kingdom shall regain its independence within a span of a hundred years; but if it turned towards the west, then the Jaintia Kingdom is doomed to be ruled over by foreigners forever.
These words of U Woh Kiang Nangbah separate him from all other freedom fighters of India. It makes him unique because he was not just a true patriot and a great leader but also a prophet. And it was indeed fortunate that his head turned eastwards as he drew his last breath hanging from a tree on a noose by the neck. 85 years later, India attained its independence from British occupation. It happened exactly as he had predicted.
A Man of Conviction
He was also a man of conviction. When the British occupiers sent peace messengers to the rebels, he had wisely stated that if the British occupiers wanted peace, they should leave our land and peace will automatically prevail in the kingdom.
A Music lover
Music was a passion for U Woh Kiang Nangbah. He was very fond of songs and music. His favourite instrument was the flute. He taught himself to play the instrument and it became his favourite pastime. It was said that he was an excellent flautist. He would carry his flute around his person at work or during his exploratory walks along the streams, hills and valleys. He preferred to relax himself by playing on his flute. They say that the hills and the valleys resonated to the beautiful tones of his flute.
A Health-conscious Individual
It has been said that he was fond of sports too, particularly athletics. He would run long distances all alone just because he liked the exercise or maybe because he realised early that it kept him fit. He always wore clean clothes and would bath regularly. The incident where he struck an elder happened while he was relaxing by playing his flute after he had had his bath and had put on a fresh clean dhoti.
A True and Wise Leader
The might of the British Empire was not fully understood by our people during those early years of the freedom struggle because of their ignorance of the affairs of the world at large. Their bows and arrows, swords and spears were no match for the British muskets and artillery. They had to resort to guerrilla tactics to fight the British army and police. U Kiang Nangbah, having been chosen to lead the resistance, travelled all over the Jaintia kingdom and even into neighbouring Khasi states to encourage and support the freedom fighters. He won the respect and admiration of his followers by being a selfless leader.
These, I believe, are not all of his qualities; for, as future researchers and historians unravel the mystery that surrounds him, we will gain more insights into the mystique that is “U Woh Kiang Nangbah”.
There is much to learn from this greatest Leader of our land and people. He was a solitary man but was chosen to lead the masses. He was a peace loving man but was forced to fight the “Little War” as the British called it then. And he chose to fight, because he believed in freedom - freedom of the self, freedom of the society and freedom of the country. He fought because he preferred death over oppressive rule. He was captured through betrayal from his own people but he chose not to trade his life for betrayal.
A hundred and fifty years have gone by since his last breath. He had given so much to the people of his time then, and even today, he still remains a symbol of hope, courage, integrity, devotion, conviction and self-sacrifice. Yes, he is the best role model for all generations. May his spirit forever inspire our people and people of all nations across the world.
(The author is an independent researcher, writer and filmmaker. He is the Founder Director of TechLife, and a Partner-Director at Picturewave Production, Jwai. You can send laurels and brickbats to him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
2012, D. R. Michael Buam.
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