Fascinating trip to Singpho villages

[ CI Mannou ]
It was a sunny day in February 1998. I, along with two ALCs started my journey to cover Singpho villages via Karhe village under Wakro circle.
The primary objective of my trip was to carry the message of adult literacy mission. After a day-long journey, we reached Karhe village and halted. Karhe was located right on the Kamlang-Deban main road.
Next day, we left Karhe Village and went on foot through a dense bamboo forest which did not have a proper tract. Therefore, we followed the course of a stream. After walking for more than two hours, we reached Tilai village. Tilai was the last Mishmi village of Wakro circle towards the Singpho area. The gaon burah of the village was Kren Kret Dellang who was an energetic man. The villagers were found to be enthusiastic about education. This indicated their consciousness towards their welfare.
We left Tilai on the same day by walking through dense bamboo and elephant grass jungles by crossing numerous streams on the way.
After walking one and a half hour, we came across a thick forest and reached Injo. There was no sign of any human being there.
However, I managed to locate the residence of the gaon burah, Enchu Ong and we camped outside his house. After sometime, he entertained us with tea mixed with honey. After the tea break, we wanted to proceed further.
But the GB advised me not to go ahead as the route beyond Injo was full of wild animals. Therefore, I decided to camp at the village along with my two ALCs. But after sometime, to my surprise, a lot of people had started to gather. On enquiry, I learnt that the villagers were hiding when we entered the village.
Injo village consisted of eight houses with a population of about 40 persons. The GB was a relatively rich man and owned a couple of elephants.
It was interesting to observe that there were very few males in the entire village. On enquiry, I came to know that the female populations outnumbered the male population.
In the evening, during the course of discussion, I also discussed adult literacy mission. People were very enthusiastic and promised to attend the adult literacy class, if it opens.
The GB also requested me to give the benefit of education to their children by opening a primary school, and he promised to enroll all children of the village in the school.
It is needless to say that whatever may be the number of children in this part of the country, it would be imperative if we could open a school which would go a long way in improving the condition of the local people.
I, therefore, considered the matter as an important issue and decided to discuss the matter with the district education officer after reaching Tezu.
Injo remained cut-off from the rest of the district during rainy seasons as it was difficult to negotiate the monsoon stream unless one rides on an elephant. The nearest market was Chowkham which was two days march from Injo.
After spending the night at Injo, we left the village along with a local guide who was very helpful in leading us through the dense forest route towards Insa.
After walking for about two and half hours, we reached Insa. The march from Injo to Insa was very interesting. We passed through dense forests with numerous streams. We followed the course of the river to reach Insa, which was full of elephants. We also came across numerous pugmarks of tigers on the sand of the stream.
Insa village consisted of only four houses and total population of the village was 20 and most of them women.
There were only seven male members in the village and they were towards Bordumsa area for their earnings.
After a brief halt, we left Insa Village. On the way we found vast paddy field belonging to Insa villagers. Although they had surplus paddy, they could not sell it in the market due to communication difficulties. After walking through deep forest, we reached Lathoo in about an hour.
Lathoo also consisted of only three houses. We went to the house of the GB. The old GB, who was once a very influential Singphoo chief, was no more. However, his son named Latho still held considerable influence among the Singphos.
We left Lathoo and passed through Munglang village which consisted of only two houses. With great difficulty, we reached Tingwa village, which was a comparatively prosperous village.
They had plenty of paddy field and the GB named Tinwa Nong owned a good timber house where we were accommodated. The GB owned a couple of elephants and his son was nominated member of the Zilla Parishad. In the evening we had a discussion on adult literacy mission. At Tinwa, I felt a bit weak and was provided an elephant for my journey further ahead.
The next day, we left Tinwa. Being novices in elephant riding, I had difficulty in maintaining my balance on the elephant’s back. We crossed Tinwa stream through thick forest by crossing the stream 12 times repeatedly. However, with great difficulty we reached Emphum village. After getting down from the elephant, I felt as if I had walked miles at strength.
Emphum is the last Singpho village bordering with the Khamtis. Since it was relatively well communicated, the people were more enlightened and progressive.
Emphum had an I.V. school which was established in 1967.
Its feeder villages were Injo, Insa, Lathoo, Tinwa, Munglang and Emphum. There were 44 students up to class V. I was also informed regarding the decline in the number of students in the school.
I also learnt that parents of the Singpho children did not want to send their children to school in the absence of proper hostel facilities. During discussion, I assured them that I would inform the Tezu DEO about the matter.
I also discussed about adult literacy mission. Greatly motivated, the villagers requested me to open an adult literacy centre with the help of existing teachers of the school.
According to the 1971 Census, there were 398 Singphos under Chowkham circle, out which 203 were females and 195 were males.
The Singpho houses were comparatively found to be neat and clean. Being in remote areas, it was very difficult for them to come to the market to purchase their basic needs like salt, tea leaves etc.
During my stay in the area, I was bestowed traditional hospitality by the GB and villagers. It was also observed that all the basic facilities needed for the people could not reach them because the villagers were dispersed and the population was very low. Developmental activities were possible only if they settled down in a compact area.
Further, I also observed that one of the reasons for not leaving the dense forest area by the Singphos was that they cultivated poppy with other agricultural practices. It was pathetic to see old women and men sitting on the door steps looking vacantly into space as if they had lost something.
Although cultivation of poppy is illegal, it was not advisable to destroy the poppy cultivation as it was an old traditional practice and people of the interior area did not find any scope for source of income.
We left Emphum and reached Tezu on the same day.
For many, it may be a story telling journey, but to me it was an opportunity to see hidden human values. Their simple life and hospitality were unforgettable experiences. Let us learn something valuable from the past of our people. (The contributor is a retired principal from Chongkham)