My recent visit to Nagaland, my homeland

March 06, 2017
Submitted By Tezenlo Thong,
Pastor, Simpson United Methodist Church, Arvada, Colorado

I’m often asked, “Where are you from?” To which I normally reply, “I’m from Nagaland.” Ninety-nine percent of those who ask the question have never heard of Nagaland, and I’m not surprised. In fact, once in a while I’m very surprised to hear someone say, “I know where Nagaland is.” Someone once asked me, “Is that in Europe?” A good guess, because in Europe they have England, Ireland, Netherland, Switzerland, and many other such “lands”. But wrong.

Nagaland is a landlocked region, sandwiched between India and Myanmar, and is not a part of Europe. However, it has a historical connection to Europe. And because of its colonial history, my homeland is known today as Nagaland (note the English suffix). We were colonized by the British and proselytized by the Americans. Thus, the toponym Nagaland as well as the ethnonym Naga are both externally derived and imposed upon my people. When the British left the region in 1947, our political fate was arbitrarily decided, and we woke up one morning and learned that we would be a part of India. And so it has been since then.
I recently visited Nagaland at the invitation of the local church where I grew up. I was invited to be the speaker for three important celebrations. First, Christmas is a big celebrative event and lasts for three days. I spoke several times during Christmas, including once at a nearby church. Second, my church youth celebrated their 75th anniversary. Finally, it was also the 50th anniversary of the students’ union. Interestingly, the students honored me for being the first from my village to complete a Ph.D. degree. Most importantly, my dad, who passed away twenty years ago and who served as a pastor and teacher in the community, was involved in both the youth and student bodies. So it gave me immense joy and honor to be able to participate in both their events.
All my family members (mom and five siblings) still live in Nagaland. As for me, I have been away for almost half of my life. My desire to study beyond undergraduate took me away from them. Although my family (my wife and children) and I were there in 2013, the last time I visited during Christmas was about ten years ago. Visiting my homeland is always bittersweet. Perhaps, most people would find it that way when visiting their homeland. First, it’s sweet because there are many blessings and surprises. I didn’t realize that there were plenty to eat in winter than in summer. Not only were there plenty to eat, but the taste also is different, because everything is natural and fresh. No doubt, we have many things in abundance here, but they are not fresh or in some cases not naturally grown.
Getting to meet friends and family members after several years is another huge blessing. For instance, for the first time, I got to meet my only nephew who is three years old. I also met for the first time some of my relatives by marriage. Although most of the meetings with my friends were brief and simply an exchange of pleasantries, I met some of them after thirty years or so. Above all, having a quality time with my mom and siblings is always precious.
Additionally, I’m always touched and amazed by the generosity of my people. I’m not rich, but I’m visiting from the richest country in the world. But many of them want to bless me with the best they have. Some give cash; others bring chicken or pieces of pork (a favorite Christmas gift of exchange), while others bring fruits and/or vegetables or traditional attires. As such, I always return feeling very blessed but also feeling deeply indebted.
Second, it’s also always bitter, because every visit comes to an end quickly. And as I say my goodbyes, I know for sure that I’m saying them one last time to some of them, as they will no longer be there in my next visit. In fact, two people have passed away since my return. Not knowing what lies ahead or rather knowing fully well that this is the last goodbye, we shake hands or hug and shed tears as I leave home for home. This is one of the tragedies of living very far away from home.
Today, the Nagas are predominantly Christians, and because they received Christianity from the Americans, the Nagas have a particular affection and a sense of affinity toward the United States. In fact, there is a saying among the Nagas that when a Naga Christian dies, s/he visits the United States before going to heaven. As such, whenever I go home, my folks want to hear about the United States, in general, and Christianity, in particular. This time, though, most questions and discussions revolved around the last presidential election because my visit was close to the November election. Judging by the inquisitive questions and comments I heard about the outcome of the election, I could see that the moral standing of the US has been greatly diminished. For instance, someone asked, “What a single Christian virtue did the Americans see in Donald Trump that made him fit to be elected to the highest office of the country?” For them, it is not a political statement, but a moral one, because they see the United States as a “Christian nation” and believe that anyone desiring to be a leader, political or otherwise, must be guided by Christian virtues and principles.
I love the visit to my homeland and always look forward to it, but I dislike the journey itself because it takes at least a week to get there and be back. Owning a private jet will make the trip much easier. So I am “seriously” considering buying a private aircraft – maybe as soon as I have enough money for the landing fees!