Naga Republic Feature
It has indeed been a long and painful journey for Visier Meyasetsu Sanyü, now an elder of the Meyasetsu clan of the Angami tribe, Khonoma village, Nagaland.
The remarkable thing about the life story of Visier, which remains an inspiration to those who hear it, is his faith, in the power to heal and transform. And this conviction to overcome, even the most difficult of times, is a story that is worthy of telling to the world. And that is what the book ‘A Naga Odyssey: Visier’s Long Way Home’ attempts to do.
This powerful story, co-authored with Richard Broome, Emeritus Professor of History at La Trobe University of Melbourne, Australia tracks Visier’s fascinating journey: from a barefoot village schoolboy to a professor, from indigenous religion to Christianity, and from small-town life to appearances before the United Nations. In this fascinating book, his kaleidoscopic sixty-year-long odyssey to find peace, tranquility, and forgiveness for others is vividly told against the rich tapestry of the Naga quest to be free.
Visier Meyasetsu Sanyü (Right) is seen here at the library in Tromsø where he told about his book ‘A Naga Odyssey: Visier’s long way home’ during his visit to Norway. Here he stands with his good friend, artist Hans Ragnar Mathisen. Photo source: Elin Margrethe Wersland
Where and how did it all begin?
Only a boy then, five-year-old Visier Meyasetsu Sanyü and his fellow villagers from Khonoma fled for their lives from the Indian Army into the jungles of Nagaland in 1956. He and his family survived privations and starvation there for over two years, though many others did not. The story goes that Visier emerged from the jungle into a turbulent new Nagaland, altered by western influence, civil war and colonial oppression.
As narrated in a summary of the book, violence and fear followed him through his student days in a military school in Bhubaneshwar where he and other Naga boys were beaten and taken into custody, and his undergraduate years in Darjeeling, adjacent to the theatre of the 1971 war over Bangladesh.
When even his dreams of a peaceful life in the University of Nagaland were threatened by fratricide, he finally sought refuge in Australia. During his two decades there, he faced the loss of home and tradition, but also found healing in his work with refugees—and a second home.
The foreword to the book written by noted scholar Rajmohan Gandhi (grandson of Mahatma Gandhi) had this to say: “Those in India or elsewhere who would like to get to know Nagas and their history cannot do much better than to read Visier’s remarkable, if in places thorn-filled, story.’
Prof. Sanjoy Hazarika, noted author, journalist and a prominent Human Rights activist had remarked that the book might astonish many with the author’s honesty. According to upcoming political leader Mhonlumo Kikon, who launched the book during his previous stint as Minister, “this is every Naga’s journey and memoir”.
“I recommend every Naga or people who are interested in Nagas either positively or negatively should read this book. It’s Visier’s life journey, but with lots of research put into it about our history, it’s almost a Naga history text book, because Visier life is all about going down to our roots”, writes Nukshi Velebny, who has known Visier and his family for many years.
Describing it as a book “that gripped my heart, mind and soul”, Nukshi Velebny, a Naga Ao girl, currently settled in England, says the book educated her about life in the Naga village and the rich tradition and culture the people possess. She also found the book helpful in learning and understanding about the Naga political problem.
“The jungle changed our world view. Traditions were altered and taboos were broken out of desperation. The jungle is still very vivid in my memory. I often wonder how we were able to survive. How did we manage to avoid the Indian Army, find food and shelter, and avoid death for over two years?” read the excerpts from Visier Meyasetsu Sanyü’s memoir ‘The Naga Odyssey’ during the launch on November 24, 2017 at Kohima.
The main purpose of writing the memoir, according to Visier, is to record the Nhanumia (those who live in the jungle/forest) experience during the peak of Naga movement and Indian army atrocities. Secondly the purpose of the book is for the overseas Nagas whom Visier considers “are struggling to find their identity.”
“And for four years, I cried because I had to be authentic, I had to write things that were shameful. I had to be exposed and not covered. The process took four years of forgiving, learning, tears, humiliation,” Visier had expressed during the book launch. “This is a memoir and not an autobiography. This is my memoir of my life. This story is written to you and your children,” says Visier.
Delving further on the Nhanumia experience, Visier poignantly recalled the torture and hardships his people went through during the turbulent phase of Naga history, adding his own personal experiences, where his father was tortured by an Assamese police officer when he was six years old. So the book is written, said Visier, for the sake of the future generation of what has made you Nagas, what has created a creative imagination of a people.
Despite Nagas going through a difficult journey of becoming a people, Visier viewed that the fact of Nagas as a nation is established and will not go away. “The only way we can destroy ourselves is to deny our identity, our facts, our journey in the jungle,” says Visier.
Visier has a Bachelor of Theology, a PhD in History, and was the inaugural Head of the Department of History and Archaeology at the University of Nagaland. He has addressed many forums across the world, including the United Nations. He is the current President of the Overseas Naga Association, an International Elder of Initiatives of Change, headquartered in Caux, Switzerland, and is a Board member of the Melbourne Interfaith Centre.
Returning home, Visier now lives in Healing Garden, Medziphema, growing trees for future generations.
The book ‘A Naga Odyssey: Visier’s Long Way Home’ is now published by Speaking Tiger in Delhi and will soon come to Nagaland. Readers can go to the link http://speakingtigerbooks.com/books/a-naga-odyssey/