Saturday, March 16, 2013

Nagas in Nagaland

Are Nagas Indians?  Yes and no.  Yes, Nagas are citizens of India.  They carry an Indian passport, have representation in the Indian government like all states of India and therefore, politically, Nagas are Indians.   However, ethnically, religiously, geographically people who live in Nagaland are not Indians, and they will be the first to tell you.

Over the twenty years I have visited India I have met many students from the “northeast.”  When Britain relinquished their colonial reign of India in 1948, the British drew the boundary map between what is now Pakistan, India and Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan).  In the process they ceded Kashmir as a state of India (which remains in dispute with Pakistan) as well as the northeast states of Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.  As you can see by the map, the northeast is closer to Myanmar (Burma) and China than it is to mainline India.   The Naga people are spread throughout Nagaland, Manipur and Burma.  Ethnically they are Mongoloid, not Indo-Aryan or Dravidian, which make up the majority population of India.  Unlike India, the people of the northeast are not divided by a caste system but rather by tribes.  The Nagas have 23 tribes and many clans and sub clans.

Nagas are about 95% Christian, mostly Baptists.  It was the American Baptist missionaries in the 1800’s who first evangelized the headhunting people of the mountains.  Nagas are not Hindus, like the majority of Indians, and they have no dietary restrictions (Nagas are very fond of pork and their food is even hotter and spicier than India).   

It's estimated that about 3,000 people groups in the world have never heard the Good News of Christ and His salvation through the work of a missionary.  In my recent visit to Nagaland I encouraged my Christian Naga brothers and sisters to take up the challenge of reaching their nation, India, as well as other surrounding countries, with the Gospel.  Like my former home, Kenya, I’m not sure Nagaland needs another Baptist Church.  He has blessed Nagaland with the Gospel for over 100 years.  God, in His sovereignty, has allowed Nagas to be a part of the great country of India.  Though the people of the northeast would like to be autonomous, it is no doubt God’s plan that they might be salt and light to a dark and sad world.  I believe the Christians of Nagaland have the potential to be a strong missionary force throughout the world.