By Limalenden Longkumer
If there is but one object found in Nagaland deserving a berth in the Guinness Book of World Records, then, perhaps, the “Süngkong” of Aliba village under Mokokchung district could well be a formidable candidate. This particular titanic of a log-drum or Süngkong, as the Ao Nagas call it, of Aliba village lay colossal at 36 feet in length, and 6.8 feet in diameter, implying some 21.37 feet in circumference or girth. It took the villagers 39 days to uproot the tree (Michelia Champaca) and carve it out into the desired figure, and another 36 days to drag it from the forest all the way to the village, covering a distance of 3.33 kilometers, manually! The villagers calculate total labor investment at 8,632 man-day-labors from day one of uprooting of the log to the carving of it and dragging it to the village. The villagers also estimate total expenditure involved at 426 tins of rice, which is approximately 3,400 kilograms, and Rs.29,524.48/-. The Süngkong was dragged in the spring of 1981, during the era of Medemsanger Putu in the village.
Traditionally, the Ao Nagas of yore would carve and drag a log-drum with the establishment of a new village, and it was regarded as a deity of the village that was “alive.” The log-drums were pounded during village emergencies like catastrophic fire, approaching of invaders or for signaling clarion calls for village meetings, and were also beat during celebrations or while welcoming heroes from battles, with a particular distinct rhythm with and for a particular core message to be deciphered by the villagers.
Legend has it that the village of Aliba first dragged a log-drum with the establishment of the village but lost it to fire. Another version of legend has it that the villagers dragged a second log-drum of whose loss no decent records are available. The villagers then dragged a third log-drum which was lost to fire too, this time round, however, set by the Indian armed forces. The Naga freedom movement was at it heights during the 1950s and 1960s, and there are authentic records of Indian Armed Forces turning whole Naga villages into concentration camps, grouping of several villages in one village, torture, rape, murder, pillage and arson. It was during one of those holocaustic days that the third log-drum of Aliba, laid at the hillock of Alongtema, was razed down along with the whole village by the Indian military on May 18, 1956. It was only after a quarter of a century later that the villagers of Aliba dragged this particularly big log-drum in 1981. The ceremonial dragging of the fourth and the last Süngkong of Aliba, perhaps the biggest in the world, if proved so or unless proved otherwise, was concluded on June 4, 1981.
“On the final day of the dragging of this Süngkong, it was as if an unseen power intervened. The log was like moving on it’s on without us dragging it… our forefathers believed the Süngkong was alive. May be they were right, it was alive that day,” recalls Lanutoshi, a school teacher at the village, who had also participated during the dragging of the log-drum in 1981, then a young son. Himself the chieftain of the village during their Medemsanger era, and under whose supervision the dragging of 1981 took place, Lanutemjen, now an elder in the village recollects vividly how the whole village participated in the ceremonial dragging, young and old, men and women alike, for they each had a role to play. He narrates, “We dug the earth around the base of the tree and uprooted it. There were five major roots that fed the tree, and five major branches. It was not a coincidence … we believed it signified the five clans in the village… it foretold us of the future of the village.” The village of Aliba is today one of the best kept and cleanest villages in Mokokchung district, if it was to be regarded as any omen. The reverberation of the pounding of this simply very big log-drum can be heard from as far as Changki, Longkhum, Mangmetong, Khensa or Mopungchuket villages, which are situated not less than several square miles away, on aerial distance!
Log-drums are popular among the Nagas. The Konyak Nagas call it Shum, the Chang Nagas call it Tongsen, the Sangtams call it Singkong, the Phoms call it Thongh, the Yimchungers call it Sangkong and the Khaimniugans call it Phean. Although log-drums are associated with other tribal and indigenous peoples across the globe, the Naga log-drums are purportedly bigger in size and more significant than the others. Among the Nagas, the Ao Naga log-drums are usually bigger, with the one at Aliba being the biggest in the Ao country. On being queried if any governmental or private agency has ever approached them in a quest for a world record berth, the villagers replied in the negative, though.
The bodies of the log-drums are hallowed out through a long slit along the whole length of the drums so as to reverberate when pounded at. The figure of a typical Naga log-drum is comprised of a head, body and tail. The face of the head is usually painted with red and black colors and a ‘necklace’ of cane is wound up around the neck of the log-drum.
Log-drums have long been of characteristic and significant importance to the Nagas, particularly in association with the socio-religious and cultural facets of their village republics, a “living deity” as their forefathers would believe. Today, even after the advent of Christianity and modernity, it has lost its spiritual bearing but the log-drum still is “alive” in that it stands as an emblem of unity and sacrifice, the embodiment of freedom, a souvenir from the past when life was simple and carefree.
(Written in 2007)