Mokokchung: Okotso village is around eleven kilometres from Mangmetong village ground; these two villages are on the border of the Wokha and Mokokchung districts respectively. Both villages are historically significant, since Mangmetong was burned down eighteen times by the Indian military during the Naga resistance, while Okotso was the first village in the Wokha district to adopt Christianity.
Members of the Mangmetong village, particularly those in Mangmetong A Khel, maintain an age-old relationship with the Okotso village that they believe their forefathers bestowed upon them, and the legacy of that friendship continues to this day.
The two villages despite belonging to two different communities- the Aos (Mangmetong) and the Lothas (Okotso), have managed to coexist peacefully, share economic ties, engage in cultural exchanges, and even work together to maintain the Mangmetong-Okotso village segment of the Alijen to Doyang (DHEP) PWD road, which has replaced the highway as a means of transportation for commuters to Kohima and Dimapur during this monsoon season.
In the past, the Putu Menden of Mangmetong ‘A Khel’ and the village council of Okotso used to join together every five years to discuss a variety of issues, enjoy a meal, and learn more about one another’s culture which was all done to strengthen their ties. But in 2019, the two communities decided to hold the conference after every three years. The conferences alternate between the two villages as the host. This year, it is scheduled to be held in October at Okotso village.
According to Yudang, 59, village council chairman of Mangmetong, Okotso and Mangmetong have “become one” and that “their relationship has been at its best.”
“The efforts of the administrations between the two villages have really strengthened our ties. It has come to a point that even students and churches invite one another whenever special occasions are being held in the villages,” he said.
A Khel Putu, Vice Chairman, Imliwati Jamir, 57, expressed similar thoughts, adding that the Okotso people have aided them at times by breaching their customs.
“Traditionally, they do not bring dead bodies from drownings to their village,” Wati added, “but they honestly reached out and retrieved the remains for us.”
Rikum Tzudir, 68, A Khel Putu Secretary, also stated that farmers from Okotso village are permitted to farm on their property after reaching an agreement with the landowner.
“The farmers and landowners reach an agreement among themselves. The community Yimden only charges farmers 10 rupees for erecting a hut on our land,” he said.
Marketing and Economic relationship
The two villages had a close commercial link until the early 1970s, when the Okotso residents would come to Mangmetong to sell commodities that the Lothas are famous for, such as various processed bamboo shoots and fishes. Meanwhile, Mangmetong villagers would go sell their Ao Naga handicrafts such as traditional baskets and vegetables grown in their village like chives, spring onions, and so on.
“These days, we don’t witness such swaps in significant amounts, but they still happen on a small scale,” Yudang added.
Thechamo Ngullie, 46, the chairman of the Okotso village council, claims that such market exchanges formerly occurred when locals walked their way into one another’s village while toting the traditional baskets packed with commodities.
“With the development of modern transportation, we no longer observe many of these customs. Additionally, the current state of the transportation infrastructure has resulted in extremely limited commercial interchange,” added he.
He also expressed enthusiasm about the proposed two-lane road connecting the two settlements, which was said to be constructed soon. He thought it would strengthen their relationships as well as the economy.
Cultural and Linguistic Exchange
The progenitors of the two villages knew each other’s languages, which has regrettably not been handed down to the current generation.
“Our forefathers were fluent in each other’s languages back then, but today the best we can do is copy the way they spoke without understanding anything,” Rikum and Wati said with humor.
“The forebears of Okotso village, which was the first village in Wokha to adopt Christianity, gave up on their customs and traditions decades ago, believing that such practices were against Christianity; hence, there was so little to impart,” said Thechamo.
However, he noted that villagers from not only Mangmetong but also Longkhum, with whom they also share the border, would sometimes come dressed in their traditional finery and recite cultural songs in the village, sharing their heritage and music.
Co-operation and achievements
The two communities also collaborate on wildlife and river system preservation by mutually agreeing not to use pesticides and alerting each other about hunting seasons.
“We make certain that the other side is aware of our hunting season in order to avoid any misunderstandings. We also punish anyone who violates the laws that we established,” Yudang added.
Aside from safeguarding natural resources, the two communities have frequently joined together and contributed financially to ensure that the Mangmetong-Okotso village segment of the Alijen to Doyang (DHEP) PWD route is preserved in good enough shape for vehicles to travel.
“The laborers have ceased coming here since around 2019; therefore, we have no choice but to keep the road condition good since we have to move about by trick or crook,” Yudang explained.
Thechamo, who agreed, said that they fix the road largely by themselves in their area and also in collaboration with the Mangmetong village because the state has ceased paying attention to the region.
(Courtesy: Mokokchung Times)