Printer Friendly

Human Sacrifice and Slavery in the "Unadministered" Areas of Upper Burma During the Colonial Era.

By the end of World War I, the British colonial system had evolved a set of compromises between the demands of the British public for social reforms based on Western values and the diverse native customs and the cultural practices of "traditional" societies under colonial rule. Bitter experiences with native rebellions and the rise of popular nationalist movements made colonial authorities very cautious and hesitant to undertake any major social reforms, especially if they were to entail high-cost coercive measures applied to native societies. Yet, in the aftermath of World War I, within Western society there was an upsurge of liberal sentiment pressuring metropole governments with the argument that colonial authorities now had new obligations under the League Mandate System to enforce "universal standards" of basic human rights and to eliminate "barbaric" practices in areas under colonial rule. The most contentious issue involved the forceful elimination of slavery and human sacrifice. Within the British colonial empire, the region where such practices were most rampant was in Upper Burma.

Because of the controversial nature of the issues involved, the British colonial officials, under pressure from the League of Nations, undertook major initiatives to eliminate slavery and human sacrifice from Upper Burma. Yet, fearful of stimulating international controversy and public scrutiny of their actions to address these "abhorrent practices", colonial officials were careful to conceal both their policies and their enforcement techniques to eliminate these practices. A major restructuring of society in Upper Burma was undertaken over a period of eight years, yet the reports on the policies, the enforcement techniques, and the social consequences of these policies were cloaked in a veil of quasi-secrecy and ultimately filed as confidential papers that eventually were buried in the colonial archives. Based largely on these archival materials, this account will provide an overview of British efforts to eliminate slavery and human sacrifice from Upper Burma.

Unadministered Tribes

After the Third Anglo-Burmese War, the British in 1886 annexed Burma and decided to administer all of Burma directly as a province of British India. Because of active resistance by segments of the Burmese population to British rule in Lower Burma, direct British administration, based on the Indian model, was difficult and costly to establish (Hall 1955, pp. 536-55, 620-32). As a consequence, resources were concentrated in the plains while large segments of Upper Burma populated by hill tribals remained beyond effective government administration, even into the 1930s. On the Burma side of the border, the "unadministered" tribal areas included the Hukawng Valley, "the Triangle", the northeastern Naga Hills (Burma), and an area called the Somra Tract bordering on Manipur.(1) On the India side of the border there were also "unadministered" areas of Assam within the Tirap subdivision and the Sadyia Frontier Tract in the North East Frontier Agency.

Within these "unadministered" areas of Burma were a great variety of hill tribals. In the northern "Triangle", Kachins(2) comprised the bulk of the population, but Tikak Nagas, Chingpaws, and Shans were also found in the Triangle. In the Hukawng Valley were a mixture of Kachins and Nagas with 138 villages grouped under the nominal authority of four Chingpaw chiefs (Barnard 1926, pp. 13-14). A scattering of other tribal communities also lived in the Hukawng Valley. The Naga Hills (Burma) was populated primarily by Nagas: Rangpan, Haimi, Longchang, Lungri, Mosang, Lanshing, Tikak, and the Konyak Naga group. To the northwest of the Burma Naga Hills were settlements of Khampti-Shan, Kachin, and Chingpaw. In the Somra Tract were Kukis and Tangkhaul Nagas. In the Tuensang district of the western Naga Hills (Assam) were Chang, Sangtam, Yimtsungr, Kalyo-Kengyu, and Konyak Nagas.

Despite being divided into distinctive tribes, most hill peoples developed similar patterns of social organization, practised similar forms of shifting hill cultivation, and created similar systems of political order. They usually lived in stockaded villages and many were organized into fairly stable webs of tribute-giving and -receiving relationships that provided a hierarchy of political power extending beyond village, clan, and tribe. Blood feuds and lines of conflict continued for generations. Headhunting and the capture of slaves for labour as well as the sale and exchange of both slaves and produce were part of an elaborate tribute system of political control and economic transactions between powerful patron villages and less powerful client villages.

All these tribal peoples were animists who believed that mystic spirits, or nat (existing in all animate and most inanimate objects), needed to be propitiated by sacrifices to ensure good health, good fortune, and good crops. Some of the goods and produce exchanged in the tribute system were also used to support the legitimizing spirit sacrifices offered by those seeking mystic powers and well-being from the spirit world. All these people offered animal sacrifices in elaborate "feasts of merit", which reinforced clan obligations, demonstrated the power and spiritual merit of the feast-giver, and were believed to secure benefits of health and bountiful crops from the spirit deities (Furer-Haimendorf 1962, pp. 17-26). Some of the tribes, most notably certain Naga tribes and some Kachins of the northeastern Naga Hills in Burma, also practised human sacrifice as the ultimate offering to propitiate the most powerful of the nat spirits.

Any moves to exert British authority into these hill tribal areas immediately posed a direct challenge to the indigenous system of political control, protection, and tribute collection by the more powerful villages at the apex of a hierarchy of power based on their warrior headhunting traditions. To attempt to settle longstanding blood feuds required more military and administrative resources than the colonial authorities were willing to assign to such tasks. After bitter experience trying to control the hill tribes of Assam and Burma, British officials were content to leave these tribes to their own "barbaric" social practices so long as these hill tribes avoided raiding areas under direct British administration. Frontier officers were instructed to maintain friendly relations with tribes in unadministered areas, but they were instructed in 1900 and again in 1911 not to "tour across the administrative border, as such action would tend to bring about more frequent interference in tribal affairs" which the government did not wish to sanction (Carter 1923, pp. 1-4; Assam 1923, pp. 1-7). The extension of administrative control was viewed as something that would eventually expand but at a very gradual and deliberate pace.


Because few British officers had toured the "unadministered" areas of Burma prior to 1920, little was known of the people in these districts, and even less about their social and cultural customs. Large sections of Upper Burma were terra incognita for British officers until after World War I.(3) Frontier officers were aware that the hill tribals practised slavery, but efforts to suppress slavery were confined to areas under direct administration. In "unadministered" areas of both Assam and Burma, slavery was allowed to continue. Slavery was common to nearly all the hill tribes of both Upper Burma and Assam. The severity of slavery varied with tribes and areas. In many cases, slaves were incorporated into the extended households of their masters and were fairly well treated. In others, slaves were kept apart, were badly ill-treated, under-fed, and forced to engage in the most onerous and hazardous back-breaking labour, mostly involving hill agricultural cultivation. A majority of slaves were born into slavery from slave parents, but a small number of new slaves were regularly added through purchase, debt slavery, or by capture in slave raiding. Unlike the patron-client system of reciprocal rights in a hierarchical system, slaves were a chattel commodity without rights and subject to the unbridled authority of the slave-owner. In the hill areas, slaves were bought and sold in a thriving slave trade network. Slaves were a highly prized commodity because they provided much of the labour for agricultural production and were a source of wealth to be given as dowry or in tribute payments to powerful patrons, or exchanged for debts or the ransom of prisoners captured by enemies.

In the early 1920s British officers with the Burma Frontier Service estimated the number of slaves in Upper Burma to constitute about 3 to 5 per cent of the population in the Naga Hills (Burma), about 25 to 30 per cent in the Hukawng Valley, and about 30 to 40 per cent in the Triangle. After more complete surveys made in 1927, the proportions of slaves were found to be much less, constituting 8.7 per cent of the total population in the Triangle, 30 per cent in the Hukawng Valley, and 9 per cent in the Suprabum subdivision (Green 1926, p. 10; Barnard 1928, p. 16).

Human Sacrifice

Besides headhunting and slave raiding, some tribes on the Burma side of the Patkoi range also practised human sacrifice of slaves to propitiate and control powerful spirits believed to affect the destiny of tribal communities. The practice was more prevalent among Nagas in the Naga Hills (Burma) district, but some other tribals also engaged in the practice to a lesser degree. We can assume that for practising tribes, human sacrifice in some form dated from time immemorial. How extensive it was in traditional tribal society is hard to determine. Fragmentary evidence does suggest that human sacrifice may have been on the increase in the decades after the year 1890. The population was increasing and shifting cultivation practices were depleting the fertility of existing swidden agricultural tracts. Moreover, some diseases, such as smallpox, were sweeping through the hills in epidemic proportions. These were the conditions which, by animist logic, could most appropriately be countered by the rituals of human sacrifice.

At the Haimi Naga village of Sela Nok, where human sacrificing had been common and recently practised, the headman in 1927 gave the following account explaining the origin of human sacrifice and its justification:
   Formerly the Kachins and Nagas were living at Majoi Shingra Bum, and
   together came down to the southern mountains. The Kachins were able to
   cultivate sufficient paddy and yams for their requirements. The Nagas were
   not so successful, and consulted the Mahtu Mahta Nat who advised them to
   sacrifice a Ningrau Chinga (the sloth monkey). This they did, but still the
   crops were not sufficient and again the nat was consulted, who advised them
   in the following words: "You all sacrifice a human, and not only will your
   crops be good, but there will be no sickness in your villages, and you will
   also gain in wealth." The advice was taken and a human sacrificed the
   result of which was the crops were successful, there was no sickness and
   the people became wealthy. Since that time humans have been sacrificed. All
   this happened a very long time ago when there was no difference between the
   Nagas and Kachins. At that time all men were equal, there being no classes,
   such as Dus (Chiefs), Tarats (Commoners), and Mayams (slaves). (Dewar
   1927a, p. 21)

At Mitai, a large Rangpan Naga village, a similar explanation for human sacrifice was given by the village headmen:
   To ensure good crops and freedom from disease, the Nats decreed the usual
   sacrifice of cattle and poultry. Later on these sacrifices lost their
   potency and the sacrifice of monkeys was ordained. Monkeys grew wily and
   the Nats then decided that before the harvest festivals raids should be
   carried out and heads obtained in these raids would suffice. Even this
   became difficult as villagers began to devise schemes for their security
   and so the Nats decreed that as men could not be obtained in battle, they
   should be bought and then sacrificed. (Mitchell 1929, p. 19)

Similarly, the Naga chief of the village of Ponyo in Burma, at the headwaters of the Namteik Kha (river), referring to both human sacrifice and headhunting is quoted as saying "we take the heads of human beings because they are the only fit morsels for the Nat" (Mitchell 1929, p. 17).

In the Upper Chindwin and the Naga Hills (Burma) areas, human sacrifice took a number of different forms. On occasion a slave would be bound and placed in the swidden fields, known as taungya, and left there to be consumed by flames as the field was burned at the end of the growing season. It was assumed that the soul of the sacrificed slave would ensure the fertility of the fields. When chiefs or important persons constructed a large house, some of which were over 100 yards in length, a slave would be bound and placed in the hole to be crushed by the main roof post as it was being set in the ground (Hutton 1927, p. 4). These posts could be three feet across and as much as forty-five feet high. Again, the soul of the sacrificed slave was assumed to give the house a magic aura and to assure wealth and happiness for the inhabitants (Davis 1895, pp. 160-62). The most common form of human sacrifice, however, was organized as a feast and community celebration, based on the recommendation of a shaman, diviner, or priest (known as Tumsa Wa) who would go into trance, consult the spirits, and read omens to provide advice and determine ritual requirements for individuals and villages in time of illness or distress. Scores of accounts of human sacrifice are available from participants and eye-witnesses. Each sacrifice event was somewhat unique, but the ceremony associated with the sacrifice followed a common pattern. Because of its cost, the practice was confined largely to wealthy clan leaders or headmen. If a shaman indicated that a human sacrifice was required, the advised person would make a vow to hold such a ceremony. It could take a number of years before the vow was fulfilled. If he died before it was fulfilled, his vow would then fall to his heir to complete. A slave for sacrifice would be obtained from outside the village, either by purchase or by trade of an existing slave for a victim not associated with the village.

Many villages not practising human sacrifice were nonetheless sources or intermediaries for trade in sacrifice slaves. At the turn of the century, human sacrifice slaves could be obtained for 40 rupee (Rs.) or Rs.50. By 1926 the price was from Rs.300 to Rs.500. Because of the price, the buyer could be aided by others in the community who, for their investment, would later be given bones and body parts for sacrifice and display on house posts or ceremonial feast posts called manao.

After taking the testimony of many participants and witnesses to human sacrifice rituals, the Burma Frontier Officer, Mr T.P. Dewar, gave the following account of the ceremony:
   The duration of captivity all depends on the preparations that have to be
   made and the urgency for holding the ceremony. In some of the cases
   concerning which enquiries were held the victim was kept for ten days only,
   just sufficient time to allow all the necessary preparations to be made,
   while in others the duration was a month, the maximum being five months.
   During captivity strict precautions are taken to prevent the victim from
   escaping. Where the victims are young and guileless, they are only watched
   and are allowed their freedom. Old men and old women generally have one leg
   only placed in stocks, but adults have stocks on both arms and legs, and
   are frequently confined to an uninhabited part of the house. From this
   place they rarely move, eating and drinking from a basket placed before
   them. The stock for the leg is about four feet long towards the ends. One
   leg only is placed in the stock, and to secure it and keep it in position a
   false piece of wood is fitted in and secured by a wooden pin. For the arms
   the stock is about 18 inches long and 6 inches in thickness, the hands are
   placed in it, one in front of the other, a false piece of wood is inserted
   while a wooden pin secures this, and keeps the hands in position. As both
   are made from some heavy durable wood, the victim must experience great
   inconvenience and difficulty in even trying to crawl about his temporary
   prison, attached to such heavy frames.

      The duration of the ceremony depends on the clan to which the person
   holding the sacrifice belongs. It may last for any period between two and
   seven days. Tawkwa Rangwang of Sanra Ga, a member of the Lokai clan, Maimi
   Naga tribe, who sacrificed a human about four months prior to being
   interrogated on the 27th February, describes briefly the ceremony held as

      "Ru Gawk (The first day). -- Ropes to tie the buffaloes for sacrifice
   were made and liquor drunk.

      Nap Tawk (The second day). -- Lahpaw leaves were collected from the
   jungle to act as wrappers for the packets of food for the guests.

      Bandak (The third day) -- Sacrificial posts were cut, fashioned and
   brought from the jungle.

      Bai Hkung (The fourth day) -- The sacrificial posts were erected, a pig
   sacrificed, the human to be sacrificed was fed on the port, and given
   liquor to drink.

      Dahkang (The fifth day) -- The human being was sacrificed in the early
   morning. At night the guests danced seven times round the house, the
   butcher carrying the head, arms and limbs of the human offering.

      Ngatang (The sixth day) -- All the buffaloes (about 13), pigs (100) and
   numberless fowls were sacrificed, cleaned, etc.

      Rungan (The seventh day) -- There was a general feast after which all
   the guests, about 600 or 700, left for their homes."

      The ceremony not only varies in duration but also in procedure. Amongst
   some clans, the victim is led to a post planted about 10 yards in front of
   the house, there the head is struck off with a dah. Either the whole skull,
   or only the part: of the frontal bone is affixed to the post, where it
   remains, and with the passing of time falls to decay. In other clans the
   victim is led to the head of the front stairs where he is decapitated with
   a dah, and the headless trunk pushed down the stairs. On falling to the
   ground the arms and legs are immediately lopped off with a dah. The skull
   is cleaned, and divided into two, the front is retained by the owner of the
   victim, and the back part of the skull by the butcher, who is generally a
   relative of the owner. The arms and legs are given to those, if any, who
   have assisted to purchase the victim, or they may be sold, or given away by
   the owner. The Tumsa Wa or praying priest is the only one who officiates at
   these ceremonies and after he has offered the victim and the skull has been
   cleansed, it is he who suspends the parts of the skull in the houses of
   owner and butcher, where they are said to retain supernatural powers to
   ward off evil influences from attacking the members of the household,
   including the cattle, poultry, etc.

        (Dewar 1927a, pp. 23-24)

Kyilung, the Naga chief of Lasau, gave the following account of a human sacrifice ceremony he attended:
   Four households subscribed and purchased a victim, a youth about 22 years
   old called Kawang of Sanseik village (Naga village). He cost Rs.250 and the
   chief subscriber was Hanmo Larlum.

      The day before he was sacrificed a pig and fowl were killed. A portion
   of each with their blood was put into a new pot and cooked slightly. A raw
   egg was then broken and mixed with this slightly cooked meal. Just a little
   was prepared. Liquor was provided.

      Kawang was made to eat and drink as much of this meal as he could. The
   remains were thrown over his head and the pot smashed. He was then led out
   of the house to the house of the next subscriber, on the way being well
   beaten with sticks till he cried and blood flowed. He had to partake of a
   similar meal in the house of each subscriber and was beaten on the way to
   the whole four houses. His wails and blood are necessary to appease the
   Nats. Arrived at the house of the fourth subscriber, the rope' is again
   fastened to a rafter. That night, all the subscribers, invited guests and
   the village priest assembled in this house and indulged in an orgy of
   feasting and drinking. A circle is formed round the victim and dancing
   takes place, every guest in the house being dressed in full war regalia.
   The next morning, he is dragged down the stairs and pushed from the back by
   others. The priest in the mean time has taken up his position at the foot
   of the stairs and as the victim's feet touch the ground, he is dealt a
   sharp blow on the neck, at the back. The blow must not sever the head from
   the body but must be sufficiently severe to cause death. Kawang died in a
   minute or two. He was very drunk but not allowed to get so drunk as not to
   be able to walk clown the stairs.

      The corpse was then thrice dragged round the house where he was killed.
   Then it was dragged to the houses of the other subscribers and dragged
   round each house thrice. Finally it was dragged to the end of the village
   where the head was severed from the body. The head was then carried to the
   centre of the village and handed to the priest, who, holding up the hair,
   danced round shouting, "My son; who killed my son?" The head and corpse
   were then taken to the village sacred hill and here the lower jaw was
   dissected and placed on the hill. The toes and fingers were cut off and
   together with the head were brought back to the village, the rest of the
   corpse being placed on the charnel rock. The head was then cut into
   portions and distributed amongst the subscribers, so also were the toes.
   The fingers are sold to people who cannot afford to carry out a sacrifice
   themselves. The thumb fetches Rs.20, the index finger Rs.50, and middle
   finger Rs.80, the third finger Rs.25 and the small finger from Rs.15 to

      The trophies are disposed of in various ways. Some are placed on a
   sacrificial post in front of the house, others hang theirs on the lintel of
   their doorway. Some people prepare a cane chain with links corresponding to
   the amount paid for their trophy and hang it together with the trophy.

      The clothing and ornaments of the victim are placed in a basket and then
   placed on a post on the main road to the village.

        (Mitchell 1927, pp. 7-8)

International Concerns

After World War I, with the founding of the League of Nations, increased international scrutiny was given to the issue of the responsibility of colonial powers for the societies they ruled. Under Article XXIII(b) of the League Covenant, members undertook "to secure just treatment of the native inhabitants of territories under their jurisdiction". Consequently, social conditions in societies under colonial rule began to come under the scrutiny of the League of Nations. In 1923, member nations were asked to provide information on the incidence of slavery within their colonies. Great Britain submitted a memorandum to the League in which it reviewed the situation in India and Burma. The memorandum asserted that slavery had been abolished in British India by the Indian Penal Code of 18413 but that it had continued to exist in practice in remote unadministered areas of northern Burma, in the northeast of Assam and among the Lushai tribes who practised the bawl system of indentured labour in hill areas southwest of Manipur. The report explained that the bawl system was being converted into a civil liability of Rs.40 and that the institution "had been further progressively modified under the civilising influence of Christianity" (Government of India 1928a, p. 3).

The following year, in 1924, the League appointed a Temporary Slavery Commission to prepare a draft document on slavery. As the draft began to take shape, the British delegation, led by Sir F. Lugard, submitted a memorandum expressing general agreement with the draft Slavery Convention but also claiming reservations about enforcement provisions. The government of India acceded to the draft Slavery Convention in 1924 but did so with the reservation that it considered enforcement provisions not binding in regard to "certain tracts in Burma and Assam" and the territories of independent Indian Princes and chiefs. In explanation, it stated that it
   cannot undertake obligations to embark on the conquest of unexplored or
   partly explored regions inhabited by primitive aboriginals amongst whom
   slavery, or practices akin to slavery, are believed to exist, but are
   prepared to accept the obligation to exercise all peaceful influence to
   suppress them as opportunity occurs. (Government of India 1928a, p. 2)

Investigating Slavery and Human Sacrifice

Even before the League of Nations began focusing on the issue of slavery, some Indian newspapers had published rather speculative reports about slavery and human sacrifice in "unadministered" areas of Assam and Burma. In 1921 and 1922 there were unconfirmed reports that several Indians had been kidnapped in Assam and sold as slaves to remote Naga tribals across the India-Burma border, perhaps as victims for human sacrifice ceremonies. British officers at Sadiya had received scattered reports on human sacrifice and the kidnapping of Assamese labourers from tea plantations, the coal mines at Ledo, and from railway operations since 1902, but they had kept these reports confidential and referred to reports about human sacrifice as "exaggerated travellers' tales". In 1908 the Assistant Political Officer at Sadiya had made a tour across the border into Burma and reported at length about human sacrifice ceremonies (Williamson 1908). Because of the policy governing "unadministered" areas, no action was taken at the time. But, when the League of Nations began making inquiries for information on slavery and when reports began accumulating about the kidnapping of Indians from Assam, the authorities decided to investigate the situation in the "unadministered" areas of Upper Burma (Assam 1922).

In 1918 Indian Railway survey officers had begun exploring a possible railway route from Assam to Burma, designed to go from Ledo, across the Patkoi range over Pangsau Pass, and continue into the Hukawng Valley to eventually link up with the Burma rail line to Myitkyina. The survey party passed through Rangpan Naga country which had earlier been reported its the area for human sacrifices, but they heard nothing about such practices from natives of the area. Later, in 1920, from the Burma side, Lt.-Col. Rich, of the Royal Engineers, led the No. 10 Survey Party in the same area of the upper reaches of the Tarung Hka river and reported that two of his Indian survey officers had observed evidence of human sacrifices at nearby Naga villages. As a consequence of this report, the government of Burma asked Lt.-Col. Rich to make further inquiries on the extent of human sacrificing and to release any Indians who might be held captive as slaves (Rich 1922a, 1922b).

During the winter of 1921-2,2, Lt.-Col. Rich returned from his base at Myitkyina with his No. 10 Survey Party to map unexplored areas of the Hukawng Valley. As he explained, "I ordered my officers in the winter of 1921 to quietly make enquiries and the results were quite startling." (Rich 1923.) He gained the confidence of the Naga chief of Katong, who requested the government to take over administrative responsibility for the area. The chief is quoted as saying:
   His Nagas were willing if this were done to become Christians or anything
   else Government liked, provided they were permitted to maintain the custom
   of human sacrifice. To me he stated he would have no objection to give up
   human sacrifice if the practice could be prevented throughout the Naga
   tract, the idea being apparently that while together they might all brave
   the displeasure of the nats, separately they could not afford to do so.
   (Rich 1922a)

Lt.-Col. Rich hired a Naga interpreter who was fluent in several languages and who travelled with his survey party for two seasons. Only a year later did Lt.-Col. Rich discover that his "Naga" interpreter, Long Yang, was, in fact, Chinese by origin and had worked at Ledo many years earlier. He and another Chinese had tried to return to China through Upper Burma. In transit, he and his companion were captured and sold as slaves. The companion became a victim of human sacrifice, while Long Yang was sold several times as a slave, eventually becoming the possession of a Shankye Naga. As a survival strategy, he assumed Naga identity and proved his worth to his master, who eventually adopted him into his family. Long Yang's skills in language and his knowledge of the outside world brought him respect and virtual autonomy in the community where he had previously been sold as a slave. After being retained as an interpreter by Lt.-Col. Rich, Long Yang retained his Naga identity and easily gained the confidence of Nagas, thereby obtaining information that would not otherwise be revealed to a "foreigner".

Through information provided by Long Yang, Lt.-Col. Rich learnt that there had been six recent human sacrifices in the area including two Indian men and an Indian woman. In his report, Lt.-Col. Rich traces the history of seven Indian slaves who were identified. Of these seven, one had died, two had married Kachins, and four he found to be well treated and they declined an offer of liberation. Four other Indian slaves who wished their freedom were purchased from their owners, and one woman of unknown origin, destined for sacrifice, was also released by purchase (Rich 1922a).

Two of the enslaved Indians and the woman were returned to Myitkyina in May 1922. The woman seemed to be somewhat deranged. She was left in the custody of the American Baptist Mission at Myitkyina, but she ran away one night, only to be found drowned in the Irrawaddy River. Lt.-Col. Rich was fearful that news of her death might be interpreted by hill tribals as evidence that the nat would eventually claim those who had already been promised in sacrifice. So this incident was kept confidential. Lt.-Col. Rich estimated that human sacrifice ceremonies in the Naga Hills (Burma) numbered from six to as many as thirty per year.
   My Assistant Mr. Jarbo and I have both called up some of the Naga Chiefs
   and told them this practice must be stopped but they firmly believe that
   unless a slave is sacrificed the crops will be bad, so I am afraid it will
   have very little effect, especially this coming autumn, as the crops were
   mostly a failure last season. (Rich 1922a; see also Barnard 1926, p. 15)

The following year, over the winter of 1922/23, Lt.-Col. Rich returned once again with his survey parry to the south of his earlier tour. Many villages visited in the second tour did not practise human sacrifice, but some supplied slaves for sacrificing villages (Rich 1923).

Although the reports of Lt.-Col. Rich were confidential, they were widely circulated among British frontier officers to solicit comments or invite refutations of his findings. Perhaps some information on the topic leaked via rumour to the press, since sensational articles on human sacrifice appeared in several Indian papers and one London paper (Pioneer Mail; Star, Englishman; Times of India; Westminster Gazette). These articles reported that some fifty Indian "boys and girls" were kidnapped each year in Assam by Nagas and that the price for slaves had risen because of the shortage of humans for sacrifice. The Deputy Commissioner of the Naga Hills, J.H. Hutton, was given the task of answering some of the early news reports. In his letter, he suggested that there was no evidence of recent kidnappings of Indians in Assam, that human sacrifice was not widespread in the hill areas, although it had been a practice of some remote tribal peoples of the Naga Hills, and that it was based on assumptions and practices that also were the basis for headhunting (Hutton 1923). In spite of these assurances, with the publicity which ensued on the issue, pressure mounted for government action to put an end to both human sacrifice and slavery in the "unadministered" regions of Assam and Upper Burma.

A Plan of Action

Although by 1924 the Slavery Convention had not yet been approved by the League of Nations, Great Britain had acceded to the draft Slavery Convention and had promised to use "peaceful influence" to suppress slavery in its colonies and dominions. The League's Temporary Slavery Commission had requested a report on government policies to suppress slavery in the "unadministered" areas for which Britain had claimed enforcement exemptions under the terms of its accession to the draft. As a consequence of both international and domestic concerns, the government of India, with Burma as a constituent unit, was being pressured to formulate an interventionist policy to eliminate both slavery and human sacrifice.

After consultations with his frontier officers, Governor Harcourt Butler of Burma endorsed a plan to liberate the slaves of Upper Burma. As a first stage, all the chiefs of the Hukawng Valley were invited to a traditional ceremonial Manao conference-feast at Maingkhwan, to be hosted by Governor Butler. A small honorarium was provided for those invited. A total of 120 chiefs and headmen attended the Manao which was held from 25 to 27 January 1925. At the Manao negotiations were held with the chiefs on the elimination of slavery and human sacrifice. Governor Butler found that the assembled chiefs were reluctantly willing to be compensated for their slaves, but chiefs of sacrificing villages were unwilling to abandon human sacrifice. He described the response of the few chiefs from sacrificing villages who were in attendance:
   The Nagas appear to be peculiarly degraded savages ... On the question of
   human sacrifice I found them obdurate and even fanatical. The practice,
   they said, was part of their faith. Their health, their wealth, their
   happiness, their future life depended on it. No other form of propitiation
   of the nats, or spirits, could take its place.... The Nagas did however
   undertake not to sacrifice Kalas (Indians) or Kachins and to look for their
   victims in their own territory. (Butler 1925a, p. 4)

After some consultations, much exhortations, and some implied threats on the part of the Governor, the Shan and Kachin chiefs grudgingly accepted the following principles offered by the Governor. Slave-owners would be paid a cash price to be set by a British officer for each class of slave, after which the slave would be freed. The cost would then be recovered from the slave by the government in easy instalments. Emancipation would be carried out quickly. In the mean time, there was to be no trading in slaves and families of slaves were not to be broken up. After liberation, a slave would receive land and would be forever free (Butler 1925a, pp. 2-3; 1925b).

Because of the attitude of the Naga chiefs, Govenor Butler took a cautious approach towards the abolition of human sacrifice. He explained: "... complete abolition of human sacrifice could be obtained only by an expedition and the occupation of the country ..." Because of the costs and the difficulty of administering the Naga Hills, he proposed instead "that the abolition of the practice should be sought rather by cutting off the supply of victims, and through the civilizing influence of improved communications" (Burma 1925, p. 23). He did, however, warn the Naga chiefs, "The British Government cannot tolerate human sacrifice in any form and will take all measures necessary to enforce its will."(4) (Butler 1925b.)

Later in the year, Mr Barnard led an expedition touring the Hukawng Valley, following which he formulated preliminary policy to govern the liberation of slaves (Barnard 1925, pp. 3-12). Slave-owners were to be compensated based upon the age of the slave according to the scale shown in the table on the next page. Since some slaves were without owners but subject to control by a headman or chief, a flat fee of Rs.15 was to be given to the village headman or chief as compensation for their liberation. Owners of runaway slaves were to be compensated, but any concealed slaves were to be liberated without compensation to owners.
Age       Compensation
(years)     (rupee)

1-4            15
5-8            35
9-15           50
16-20         100
21-45         120
46-60          60
Over 60       nil

Initially, the decision had been made that slaves were to be given loans to purchase their freedom. But Mr Barnard had warned that agricultural production in the area could be decimated if slaves, who performed much of the agricultural labour, were to leave the area in large numbers after liberation. To avoid such an outcome, the earlier proposals were amended to provide that slaves who, upon liberation, agreed to remain in the valley were to have their liberation payment treated as a free gift of the government. If later they' left the district, they would then be responsible for repayment of the loan. Financial advances were to be made to destitute slaves to cover basic needs until they could cultivate their own land. No interest was to be charged for loans, but 10 per cent interest would be charged on instalments that were not paid on the due dates. Although not explicitly stated, presumably freed slaves would be allowed to clear and settle on unoccupied lands and would be able to acquire title to such lands. Each liberated slave was to be given a certificate of release, and a record was to be kept by government officers of each freed slave's liberated status (Barnard 1926, pp. 7-8). Some difficult issues regarding the rights of slaves who married free persons, the rights and obligations of both parents and slave owners for illegitimate children born by slave mothers and free fathers, and the precise determination of who were entitled to compensation, were also addressed (Barnard 1926, Annexure A, p. 23).

Slave-Liberation Operations

The first large expedition to liberate slaves was planned for the Hukawng Valley for 1925-26. To support the expedition, work began in November on cart roads from Kamaing to Shadzup and a mule trail from Shadzup to Maingkhwan. Later in the year the trail from Shingbwiyang to Pangsao Pass was converted into a cart road to support the expedition and improve access to the northern Naga Hills (Burma). The main expedition, under the command of Mr Barnard, started 1 December 1925, with field operations continuing for a full five months until 30 April 1926. The expedition was divided into three separate parties, each operating in a defined region to facilitate the liberation of all slaves in the Hukawng Valley and the Naga foothill areas of Burma. Meeting no organized resistance and securing the co-operation of most villagers in the valley, the three expedition parties succeeded in liberating a total of 3,465 slaves during the first season. Following the same pattern, three large expeditions to liberate slaves were organized for the next tour season of 1926-27 to cover the areas of the Triangle, the Naga Hills (Burma), the western Hukawng Valley, and the Upper Chindwin area. (Barnard 1925, 1926).

Operations in the "Triangle"

For 1926-27, the largest expedition was mobilized for slave-liberation operations in the Triangle, where conditions were somewhat different from the Hukawng Valley. The combined area of over 3,800 square miles was much larger, more remote, and the slaves were greater in number than in the Hukawng Valley. The potential resistance to liberation operations was a concern because of the greater social consequences of ending slavery.

Following the pattern of the previous year, Governor Sir Harcourt Butler summoned the Triangle chiefs to a Manao at Myitkyina from 6 to 10 January 1927. The ceremony was conducted by a Kachin Jai Wa (high priest) with 120 chiefs in attendance. The Governor made his statement as a policy directive with the following explanation:
   My visit here is to meet you and to tell you that slavery must come to an
   end in the Triangle and in other areas in the Kachin hills where it exists.


      All the Governments of the world have now agreed that slavery is a bad
   custom and must be abolished.... The British Officers I am sending to do
   this work know your language and customs and so long as your customs are
   just, good and equitable, they will not be interfered with by the British

      (Barnard 1927b, Annexure A, pp. 37-38)

At the previous Manao at Maingkhwan, the ceremony had concluded with a display of fireworks. This time the Triangle chiefs were entertained by a Lewis Gun demonstration with tracer bullets destroying a target at considerable distance. By all accounts the chiefs were duly impressed.

For liberation operations, the Triangle was divided into six areas, with the expedition also divided into six operational parties, each under the command of a British officer. Prior to operations, cart roads and trails were improved, temporary buildings constructed and a main supply base was established at Htingnang to support field operations which were planned to last for five months. Despite the opposition of many Kachin chiefs to the liberation of slaves, in most areas operations proceeded without overt obstruction. However, in the southern sector of the Triangle, several Kachin chiefs of the Lahpai tribe organized some resistance. In 1898 and later in 1914 the southern area and the northern Putao area had been sites of rebellions against any exercise of British authority. In the southern area of the Triangle a vicious feud had developed between two factional alignments, one known as Gumlao and the other as Gumsa. Animosities remained, and those who co-operated with the British were fearful of reprisals. Furthermore, the release of slaves was viewed by some Kachins as favouring one feuding faction over the other. When slave-liberation operations began, one village refused to present their slaves for release. Thereupon, the British officer, Mr Leonard, ordered the detention of a village elder. Later, at another village the chief who defied orders to present slaves for release was also detained for one week. These incidents prompted the formation of a secret war council, called by the Gumlao faction chiefs Kritaw Sinwa and Hpunyawm. The Gumlao council ended with a war summons issued to various villages calling for attack against the British expedition. From friendly Kachins, Mr Leonard received rumours of possible attack; precautions were taken and nothing materialized. Instead, the Gumlaos decided to attack the expedition to the south where slave-liberation operations were about to commence at the village of Nawhkum.

The officer commanding the southern column, Mr Porter, was warned of possible hostilities, but when his party of fifty military police approached Nawhkum, the son of the chief offered an elephant tusk as a token of friendship. The village was entered with no difficulty and Chief Du Rin denied any plot to attack the British. The villagers appeared friendly and twenty-nine slaves were freed with no trouble from slave-owners. When Mr Porter's party was ready to leave Nawhkum for Htingraw on 26 March, the chief's son, with several other villagers, acted as guides leading the party on a trail through a ravine. Just prior to entering the ravine, the guides were allowed to return to Nawhkum. In the ravine, amidst heavy underbrush, Mr Porter's party was attacked by a well-armed war party of seventy waiting in concealed ambush only five yards from the trail. The commanding officer of the military police escort, Captain E.M. West, and two military police personnel were killed, and three others were wounded. After the initial ambush, the military police quickly regrouped to route the attackers, who lost one killed (Barnard 1927 b, pp. 19-21).

News of the attack was quickly relayed via visual signal posts to the Deputy Commissioner, Mr Barnard, who rapidly made plans for the formation of a military expedition to punish those involved with the assault. Using Sumpawng Mata as a base camp, a unit of 150 military police personnel began on 3 April and continued for about a month. Investigations revealed that Chief Muwa Sinwa of Kritaw had promised to pay a pony and Rs. 1,000 to anyone who killed a British officer. Various Gumlao faction chiefs and elders were arrested, including Muwa Sinwa and Du Rin. Thirteen "ringleaders" were sent to Myitkyina for trials which resulted in convictions and long prison terms and transportation to a prison colony beyond Burma. Those directly involved in the actual assault were sentenced by British officers to whipping. Villages or persons who had supported the attack were fined or had their houses destroyed as punishment. A total of Rs. 5,737 was imposed as fines and 156 houses were destroyed and 353 guns were confiscated (Barnard 1927 b, pp. 28-30). The British officers decided that slaves of those implicated were to be freed without compensation, but this affected very few since most slaves in the area had already been freed and their owners had already received compensation before the ambush incident had occurred. Although the records are imprecise, it appears that about twelve to twenty villages were implicated in the rebel movement and were subject to some degree of punishment.

The revolt of the Gumlao chiefs had impeded slave-liberation operations so that all areas of the Triangle were not able to be covered during the 1926-27 season. As a consequence, Mr Barnard led a second expedition to the Triangle the next year, concentrating on the more remote eastern N'mai Hka Valley, and the Putao and Suprabum subdivisions. During this expedition British officers encountered no resistance to their operations and 1,316 identified remaining slaves in the northern two subdivisions of the Triangle were finally freed (Barnard 1928, pp. 16-17).

Suppression of Human Sacrifice

The practice of human sacrifice was concentrated in the Naga Hills (Burma) and the Upper Chindwin areas. Here the number of slaves was not great but local support for the practice of human sacrifice was often intense. The recalcitrance of the Naga chiefs at the Maingkhwan Manao in 1925 convinced the government to address the issue of human sacrifice by direct contact with Naga chiefs from the sacrificing areas. Shingbwiyang was chosen as a base camp for operations in the Burma Naga Hills because its Chingpaw chief, Naung Hkum, claimed a nominal authority over a number of Naga villages to the north. Following the 1925-26 expedition to the Naga Hills, led by Mr Barnard, eighty-one Naga chiefs were invited to a Manao feast at Shingbwiyang where they were informed of the government's decision to end human sacrifice. During negotiations one Naga chief proposed that the "Government should provide sufficient number of victims for a final ceremony at which the nat or spirits would be propitiated and informed of Government's intervention in this custom" (Barnard 1926, p. 15). After much reluctance, all eighty-one chiefs finally consented to demands that they promise to stop human sacrifice in their villages.

To ensure compliance with government orders, in 1927 Mr T.P. Dewar led an expedition to the Burma Naga Hills and issued an invitation for Naga chiefs to attend a second Manao at Shimbwiyang, but excluded seventeen chiefs who had broken their promises by allowing human sacrifices over the previous year. On 1-3 April 1927, seventy-two "deserving" Naga chiefs and 500 followers coming from as far as 80 miles away attended the Manao, which was presided over by a Naga Tumsa Wa (spirit priest) who conducted the appropriate nat propitiation ceremonies. Government officers provided gifts to all invited chiefs and reminded them of their previous promises to stop human sacrifice. On the third day, just as the Manao was ending, the seventeen Naga chiefs who had been debarred for permitting human sacrifices, were then allowed to attend and renew their pledges. To demonstrate their good faith they surrendered to British officers 102 human skulls and eighteen human sacrifice bones. The three-day Manao ended with a Lewis Gun demonstration provided by the Burma Military Police contingent (Dewar 1927b, pp. 27-28).

In 1927 and 1928, two extended expeditions were organized each year to tour the Naga Hills and the Upper Chindwin areas, not only to stop human sacrifice, but also to obtain pledges against trafficking in slaves for sacrifice. During these operations, British officers backed by a strong military escort, visited all major villages of the Burma Naga Hills. Upon gaining access to a village, British officers freed slaves and instructed elders on British policy. Valuable ethnographic and medical information was collected and much energy was devoted to the settlement or mediation of longstanding and endemic blood feuds that so often degenerated into devastating incendiary raids and headhunting. In addition, medical officers provided treatment for sick villagers. Smallpox vaccinations were administered to willing villagers, not only to reduce the incidence of illness, but to reduce the potential demand for human sacrifice. The weapons and instruments of human sacrifice were confiscated and trophy heads and human parts were burned or buried. Based on these pledges, British officers assessed fines and collective punishments of compulsory labour where human sacrifice persisted. In addition, guns and other weapons were confiscated from those involved or implicated in the proscribed sacrifices or the traffic in sacrifice slaves (Dewar 1927b; Mitchell 1927, 1928a, 1928b).

At several villages, hostilities seemed imminent. Yet, by diplomacy, tact, threats of force, and the occasional coercive utilization of a village elder as a virtual hostage to pre-empt any ambush, all approached villages were eventually entered without assault or violent incident. The powerful and feared village of Ponyo, which was a primary supplier of sacrifice victims, proved particularly militant. When its chief Naukkon began mobilizing allies for an attack on the tour force, Naukkon's potential allies were warned against contributing any warriors to his cause. Eventually, Ponyo was entered without violence and afterwards a Manao was held at the nearby village of Hkalak where ceremonies of "goodwill and amity" were followed by dancing and sporting events, finally culminating in a Lewis Gun demonstration by the escorting military police. Mr Mitchell reported that Ponyo was "won over" and "eventually they treated us with dignity" because Nagas could see that "with mules Government can move about independent of assistance" (Mitchell 1928b, pp. 1-10).

Available evidence indicates that by 1928 virtually all human sacrifice in the Burma Naga Hills had been stopped (Assam 1928). Yet, three years later, British officers discovered that human sacrifice ceremonies were continuing to be held at Naga villages just across the border on the India side within the Sadiya Frontier Tract of Assam. The investigations revealed that from 1927 to 1929 there had been at least eleven cases of human sacrifice, and the traffic in slaves for sacrifice was continuing. The villages of Manmao, Telim, and Rangwill in the Sadiya Tract were identified as each having had more than one human sacrifice. Each ceremony had been attended by 150 to 300 "guests", many having come from other villages at considerable distance. Some Nagas had even moved from Burma to the Sadyia Frontier Tract to continue with such practices. The investigating officer, Mr J.H. Crace, received the full cooperation of interrogated Naga villagers, with no apparent guilt or deception. In his report he noted, "They explained anything I asked. They came in so promptly because they had easy consciences and so nothing to fear." (Crace 1931.) His investigations easily identified all except one of the victims as well as all organizers and executioners of each sacrifice, and he obtained the equivalent of a full confession from all but four of the persons accused with organizing such sacrifices.

The candid responses of interrogated villagers raised the question whether they had been properly informed that human sacrifice was forbidden in Assam, and whether they could be held responsible and punished for their acts. The initial report reveals that the sacrifices were held at "revenue paying villages" that were nominally "administered" but that the area had not been visited by a British officer for many years, if ever. Later reports indicated that at least some of the villages had been visited by the Political Officer, Mr O'Callaghan, in 1926 when he reportedly warned villagers against committing human sacrifices (Cosgrove 1931). Based on these facts, the government of Assam eventually approved and applied the following punishments: the buyers of slaves sacrificed and the executioners were sentenced to hard labour for a year or less. All adult members of three villages, Manmao, Telim, and Singnang, were required to do two months of punitive labour (by constructing bridle paths to improve administrative communications with the area). All villagers identified as having attended human sacrifice ceremonies since 1926 were also required to perform two months of punitive labour. All headmen were to be provided with written orders prohibiting human sacrifice and warning that further offences would be punished by the full provisions of the Indian penal code (Soames 1932, pp. 1-2; Furze 1932). It is almost certain than no headman in the area could read, but no doubt they were informed of the contents of the orders outlawing human sacrifice.

Government records reveal that the last human sacrifice in Upper Burma or Assam prior to World War II was in January 1929 at the village of Manmao. Years later, however, Sir Charles Pawsey, Deputy Commissioner of the Naga Hills during World War II, reported that an outbreak of headhunting in the Naga Hills occurred in the wake of the Japanese invasion, and he raised the possibility that for a short period human sacrifice may also have been revived in remote areas of the Naga Hills along the Burma or Tirap frontier (Pawsey 1968). In the aftermath of the Japanese invasion of Manipur and the Naga Hills, and their subsequent defeat, many powerful weapons became available in the northern Burma and Assam Hill areas. The villages of Ponyo, Tsawlaw, and Law Nawkun in the Burma Naga Hills acquired high-powered rifles and machine guns. During 1946 these villages raided across the border the Tuensang Naga villages of Ukha, Pochu, and Yonghong. Altogether about 710 heads were collected in the raids and a number of slaves were taken. Some of the slaves were later sold for human sacrifice to other villages in the Burma Naga Hills (Adams 1946). This report of Deputy Commissioner P.F. Adams in 1946 appears to be the last record of human sacrifice from British colonial archives, so it is difficult to determine the extent and duration of the revival of human sacrifice in the post-World War II period.

The Social Impact of Liberation Operations

The forceful and determined intervention of British authorities to terminate human sacrifice and slavery produced tremendous social upheaval and ignited far-reaching processes of social change in Upper Burma and along the India-Burma border areas. Even before slave-liberation operations were launched, the mere announcement by Governor Harcourt Butler in January 1925 that slaves were to be freed created increased social tensions and political instability in many hill tribal areas. In a few cases where slaves were badly treated and had been captured, rather than being born into slavery, the Governor's announcement seems to have triggered an increased incidence of runaway slaves. But slave-owners took counter-measures and also spread rumours that the British wished to capture slaves for their use and profit in some other distant location (Barnard 1928, p. 18). Therefore, in the early stages some slaves were suspicious of British efforts to secure their liberation.

One unanticipated effect of the expeditions to free slaves was an increase of political instability, especially in the Kachin Hills of the Triangle. Because there were so many slaves in that area, often under the control of chiefs, their release weakened the chiefs. Also, payments for the release of slaves went to the masters, while only the most destitute slaves received any money or loans to begin life as a free person. When slave-liberation operations began, some slaves felt confident to leave their masters even before compensation to their masters had been made by visiting expeditions. With the weakening of the power of the chiefs, some free villagers also refused to give their traditional tribute to the chiefs (Government of India 1928a, Appendix VIII, p. 13).

Other problems emerged with slave-liberation operations. Most slaves lived in their owner's house or in housing provided by the slave-owner. Liberation usually required the construction of new housing as well as clearing new fields for cultivation. Many slaves had become dependent on the cycle of activities organized by their owners. Furthermore, many slaves were addicted to opium, which made them lethargic and lacking initiative, so that upon liberation, some slaves just sat in stunned anxiety concerning their survival and their future. By contrast, usually the younger and more energetic were eager to leave their bondage, with some seeking to migrate from the area and, if possible and known, to return to their natal village. To avoid extreme economic dislocation, British policy discouraged migration of released slaves from the area of liberation by threatening that the cost of the payments to their former masters would be incurred as a debt of the freed slave if they migrated from the area where they had been kept as slaves (Government of India 1928b). Every freed slave was given a "Release Certificate" and great effort was taken by the British officers to keep track of all released slaves to determine their place of residence, conditions of living and employment in the years after the slave-liberation operations had been completed. After the initial liberation operation, subsequent annual expeditions devoted much energy and resources to tracing the fate and progress of ex-slaves, so that the patterns of social and economic adjustments by both ex-slaves and ex-owners could be monitored.

The conditions of released slaves varied from region to region and were partly determined by the severity of slave treatment before liberation. Where slavery had not been too oppressive, a higher proportion of ex-slaves remained with their former owners, usually building a house nearby, or even continuing to live in the house of their former owner, in return for some payment or services. Where other opportunities for employment existed, or where feuds were rampant, ex-slaves were more likely to move outside the village, and either establish a new village or migrate out of the area. Incomplete statistics give some idea of the patterns of various areas. In the north sector of the Triangle, 42 per cent of the ex-slaves settled in their old village, while in the southern regions of the same areas only 20 per cent of ex-slaves remained in their former village. The insecurity caused by blood feuds apparently contributed to the departure of more slaves in the southern regions (Leonard 1929, pp. 3-4; Roberts 1929; Porter 1929). In the Suprabum Tract of the Triangle, 31 per cent of ex-slaves lived with former owners and in the Lushai area of the southern part of the Triangle (Section AIII), 13.6 per cent remained with former owners. In the northern areas of the Triangle, ex-slaves who lived with former owners usually worked their own fields separately, but were less likely to do so in the south. Two-thirds of the lands in the southern sectors of the Triangle suffered from a rat plague in 1927, which produced a food shortage and induced more ex-slaves to leave the region. In all areas, those ex-slaves who left the villages of their incarceration were more likely to be the young males and young married couples, while the old and infirm and the women with "bastard" children from slave-owners were more likely to remain with their former owners.

In the Hukawng Valley, seventeen new villages were founded by ex-slaves (Porter 1929, pp. 7-8). In other areas, ex-slaves were more likely to build a new house within their previous village and attempt to become a regular member of the community by concealing their previous identity as a slave. For this reason, some British officers believed that tracking ex-slaves and registering their "Release Certificates" to protect against exploitation was counter-productive since these actions were resented by many ex-slaves as drawing public attention to their previous lowly social status. Even so, the condition of ex-slaves was tracked by British officers for a number of years after the liberation operations were concluded.

Determining the fate of the offspring of slave-free unions was contentious and difficult. Children of such unions were called surawng, which the British frequently translated as "bastard children". Usually the father was a slave-owner and the mother a slave, but in some instances, male slaves became husbands to free females, and in rare cases the woman was even the slave-owner of her lover. By tribal tradition, the husband of a slave, if not the owner of the slave, was required to pay dowry to the slave-owner, and if they did not, they often became slaves as a result. The father of a child born to a slave could pay a settlement to the owner of the slave mother and to the mother of any child born out of wedlock, whereupon the father could claim custody of the child. When this had occurred, the slave "wife", when freed from bondage, would often choose to marry the father of the child, if possible, in order to remain with her child or children. Disputes over child custody of surawng consumed much of the energy and legal or diplomatic skills of British officers (Leonard 1920, pp. 13-14, 46, 51).

After 1927 the British attempted to enforce an "Excise Cordon" against opium in the Myitkyina district with the idea that it would be extended to all areas as they were gradually converted from "unadministered" to administered areas. These efforts to control opium trading coincided with the slave-liberation operations, and thus contributed to economic dislocation in areas where opium was grown as a commercial crop. For most Kachins, opium was considered a "Staple Industry", and the increasing restrictions on opium trade meant that some tribals who had grown opium for consumption and trade abandoned opium growing, while others became involved in opium-smuggling operations. Increasingly, reports of criminal cases from the hill areas revealed the presence of opium smugglers (Porter 1929, Appendix B, pp. 13-15; Roberts 1929, pp. 65-66).

Because the social upheaval and the rise of political turmoil in the Triangle had risen to such an extent, the British authorities decided in 1926 that the area would need to be placed under direct British rule very shortly. An additional consideration for the decision to extend administrative control to the Triangle was that the Burma boundary with China had not been settled, so there was a fear that any turmoil in the area might complicate British territorial claims in a potential dispute with China.

By 1927 the government of Burma had formulated a set of policies to deal with the problems posed by the "unadministered" areas of Upper Burma. A decision was made to begin an immediate "occupation" of the Triangle by building a military post at Hpimaw, and by completing roads into that area. The occupation was to involve a "minimal presence", but with sufficient resources to effect a full-year-around presence in the area. The Kachin Hill Tribes Regulation was to become the basis for civil administration of the Triangle. For the Hukawng Valley and the Upper Chindwin Naga and Burma Hill areas, no permanent administration would be attempted, but the Kachin Hill Tribes Regulation would be applied as appropriate. Instead of "occupation", these other "unadministered" areas were to be visited by civil officers on annual tours. These tours were to be extended from short visits to six months during the "cool and dry" season. A greater effort was to be expended on enforcement against slavery and on the settlement of "blood feuds" among tribal communities. Perhaps the most important decision related to the building of roads. A commitment was made for Rs.4,640,000 to be spent on road construction to improve access to these remote areas (Government of India 1928c, pp. 2-12; 1928d, pp. 1-15). The beginnings of what came to known as the "Burma Road" were based upon these decisions. Finally, the government also decided to invite or allow Christian missionaries to begin work among the hill tribals in Upper Burma, to act as a "civilizing influence" among the hill tribals.

The Gumsa-Gumlao Feuds

In much of Upper Burma the tribal communities were wreaked by enduring blood feuds that sometimes continued over generations. Among the Nagas these feuds were intensified by the practice of headhunting. British officers devoted a great amount of effort attempting to mediate and resolve these blood feuds as part of a strategy to bring peace and order to the hill areas. One of the most difficult and persistent of the blood feuds involved a cluster of villages in the southern areas of the Triangle along the eastern slopes of the Mali River.(5)

After extensive investigations, British officers determined that in the period before 1890 a movement of rebellion against the traditional rule of chiefs had been formed in the Hukawng Valley along the western slopes of the Kumon range of hills. Certain villagers refused to give to their chiefs the customary leg of animals slain in the hunt or sacrificed at village feasts, claiming instead that chiefs exceeded their authority in collecting tribute. The dispute triggered a series of revolutions against the authority of hereditary chiefs, which spread to other areas. This movement came to be known as Gumlao or Kumlao (depending on which officer was writing the report). The defenders of the prerogatives of hereditary chiefs were identified as Gumsa or Kumsa. By the mid-1890s the Gumlao movement had spread to the Laphai sub-tribal grouping of the Kachins, eventually dividing the Laphai villages against each other and setting off a wave of reprisals, blood feuds, and the construction of elaborate village fortifications and stockaded houses. In the southern Kachin areas the movement did not reject the institution of duwa (chief), or claim the equality of all men. The institution of slavery was vigorously defended by both the traditionalist Gumsa and the new Gumlao movement and both factions had a class system of aristocrats (dus), commoners (tarat), and slaves (mayam). The primary issue of dispute was the claim of the Gumlao faction that inheritance to the duwa office devolved to the youngest son (uma) from the ruling family (ultimogeniture) instead of the oldest son (primogeniture). Where uma duwa were installed in power by the Gumlao movement, the sacrificial offerings demanded from villagers by the duwa involved less valuable parts from animals butchered or hunted than those demanded by traditional duwa. Gumsa duwa demanded a rear leg, while Gumlao duwa demanded the snout and ears (Barnard 1928, pp. 18-20). The tribute and rituals of Gumlao villages could be viewed as slightly more egalitarian.

Among the Laphais, the Gumlao movement started about 1890 when several villages, including the village of Kumlao, ascribed to the Gumlao principles. Then, in 1893 a factional split developed among key members of the ruling family at the village of Ningrawng Kawng over support for the incumbent duwa Ja Nawng. Two dissident clan members solicited support from clans at: the neighbouring village of Kumlao(6) to support a revolt against duwa Ja Nawng to install one of the plotters and convert the village to the Gumlao faction. The first revolt failed, but duwa Ja Nawng's house was burned and two guests were killed. A second assassination attempt was made in 1897, with the duwa's house burned again and one family member was killed. This second attempt at revolt also failed. The two dissident plotters from Ningrawng Kawng later claimed to have had no part of the earlier assassination attempts and returned ten years later to their village to make peace with their clansmen. Despite the reconciliation, the earlier events had triggered a never-ending series of burnings and murders between the two main protagonist villages. Over time, hostilities spread to other villages identified with either the Gumlao or Gumsa faction. From 1893 to 1928, during extended hostilities, duwa in a number of villages were killed and rivals installed to convert villages from one faction to the other, or to restore a deposed line. The feuding split families, clans, and villages, and in some cases, sons killed fathers or brothers killed brothers in the escalating feuds. Early leaders of the Gumlao movement included Tungbu Wawng and Kumang Tu. In the 1920s the primary Gumlao leader was Mazi Zao, who was reported by British officers to have personally murdered six men in feud hostilities. By 1927 the primary Gumlao duwa was Kritaw Sinwa, who organized the ambush against the British forces, described above, when Captain West and two others were killed in 1927 during operations in the southern sector of the Triangle (Barnard 1927b, pp. 8-11, 28; Leonard 1929, pp. 9-13, 23-29). Among the Laphai villages there were probably thirty or thirty-five villages identified with the Gumsa faction and perhaps twenty or twenty-five associated with the Gumlao faction. Generally, the British officers considered the Gumlao to be troublemakers and more likely to upset the peace, but from official record of cases reported and tried, it is difficult to determine who was the most brutal and the aggressor. Some officers described the Gumlao as being a "republican movement", perhaps because of implicit British support for the authority of the more traditional duwa selected by primogeniture. The extended feuding in the Laphai areas had the effect of weakening the power of Gumsa duwa regardless of their factional alignment. In Sections AII and AIII of the Triangle, a large proportion of the early court cases tried by British Officers from 1927 to 1931 involved the allocation of damages and awards to one party or another in an attempt to settle longstanding grievances derived from the Gumsa-Gumlao feuds.


Over a period of about nine years, from 1921 to 1930, British colonial authorities in Burma mounted a major effort to eliminate longstanding social practices that were deemed to be incompatible with a growing international concern for fundamental human rights and freedoms. This effort involved a major restructuring of these societies. It seems inconceivable that such a major campaign to emancipate slaves and abolish human sacrifice could remain largely unreported. Yet, concern over anticipated public reactions and possible international demands for further remedial measures prompted colonial officials to place a veil of cautionary silence over their efforts. That they were successful in this strategy is revealed by the fact that these events have attracted almost no attention in scholarly accounts of modern Burma.

In the intervening years since 1930, the highland areas of northern Burma have been characterized by political turmoil and military interventions by Japanese, Allied, Chinese Nationalist, Burmese, and domestic guerrilla military forces, creating a region of instability which has impeded access for sustained scholarly study. The above account may generate a re-evaluation of the impact of colonial rule on the hill tribes of Upper Burma. Earlier accounts of the area which ignored the impact of slave emancipation operations on the hill societies deserve a second look. The events recounted above should provide more than an historical footnote to a number of established works on modern Burma. Most of all, this account should help to generate a renewed determination by both Burmese and foreign scholars to fill in the large void of knowledge on these societies accumulating over the past seventy years.

Table 1
List of Tours to "Unadministered" Areas, 1921-29

                               Size of
Year      Leader               Force           Destination

1921-22   Lt.-Col. E.T. Rich                   Hukawng Valley
                                               & Naga Hills
1922-23   Lt.-Col. E.T. Rich                   Hukawng Valley
                                               & Upper
1925      Gov. H. Butler                       Maingkhwan,
                                               Hukawng Valley
1925      Mr J. Barnard        40 MPs          Hukawng Valley
1925-26   Mr J. Barnard        155 MPs         Hukawng Valley
                               25 civil &
1926      Mr J. Barnard        12 MPs          Naga Hills
          & Capt. Fraser                       (Burma)
1926      Capt. J.H. Green                     "Triangle"
1926-27   Mr T.P. Dewar        84 MPs          Hukawng Valley
                               19 civil &      & Naga Hills
                               medical         (Burma)
                               350 mules
1926-27   Mr. J. Barnard       300 MPs         "Triangle"
          with                 32 civil &
          Gov. H. Butler       medical
                               1,600 mules
                               250 muleteers
1926-27   Mr H.J. Mitchell     83 MPs          Western
                                               Hukawng Valley
1927      Mr H.J. Mitchell     45 MPs          Upper Chindwin
                                               & Naga Hills
1927-28   Mr T.P. Dewar        116 MPs         Hukawng Valley
                                               & Naga Hills
1927-28   Mr J. Barnard        204 MPs         "Triangle",
                               20 civil &      Suprabum &
                               medical         Putao
                               750 mules
                               75 muleteers
1928      Mr H.J. Mitchell     208 MPs         Upper Chindwin
                               14 civil        & Naga Hills
                               & medical       (Burma)
1928-29   Mr P. Leonard        101 MPs         "Triangle"
          & Capt. V.G.         10 civil &
          Robert               medical
1928-29   Mr A.W. Porter       104 MPs         Hukawng Valley
                               23 civil &

                                                       to Slave
                                          Cost of        and
                               Slaves    Expedition     Slaves
Year      Leader               "Freed"     (Rs.)        (Rs.)

1921-22   Lt.-Col. E.T. Rich         5                      845
1922-23   Lt.-Col. E.T. Rich
1925      Gov. H. Butler                   47,947
1925      Mr J. Barnard             41
1925-26   Mr J. Barnard          3,456                  174,858
1926      Mr J. Barnard
          & Capt. Fraser
1926      Capt. J.H. Green
1926-27   Mr T.P. Dewar             21    105,000         1,785
1926-27   Mr. J. Barnard         4,013    386,070
          Gov. H. Butler
1926-27   Mr H.J. Mitchell                178,930
1927      Mr H.J. Mitchell
1927-28   Mr T.P. Dewar                   197,618
1927-28   Mr J. Barnard          5,495    318,950        77,240
1928      Mr H.J. Mitchell          59    207,782(*)
1928-29   Mr P. Leonard             46    686,434(*)
          & Capt. V.G.
1928-29   Mr A.W. Porter            42    121,330(*)        475

(*) Estimate of British officers.

MP = Military Police.

Sources: See references cited under names of leaders of expeditions.


(1.) The Hukawng Valley included the area between the Nampuk and the Tani Rivers up to the India border. The "Triangle" included the Kachin Hills, and the eastern portion of the Myitkina district between the Kumon Range and the Chinese border. The Somra Tract included the western slopes and tributaries of the Chindwin River between Homalin and Tamanthi and up to the Manipur and Naga Hills (Assam) boundaries.

(2.) The language spoken by the Kachins is known as Chingpaw or Jinghpaw. During the 1920s the British also used the term "Chingpaw" to refer to a tribal subdivision of Kachin society, thus creating confusion in the meaning of the term. By 1920 many of Chingpaws had moved to the Hukawng Valley, while many of those remaining in the Triangle had become slaves of Kachins. To avoid undue confusion, British ethnic terminology of the 1920s is utilized for this account.

(3.) A British expedition burned some villages in the southern Triangle in 1896; the British explorer Young, with three Lisu guides, made a quick trip across the centre of the Triangle to the Chinese border in 1903; and Noel Williamson, Political Officer at Sadiya, Assam, made a tour into the Naga Hills (Burma) in 1908. See Green (1926) and Williamson (1908).

(4.) This speech was later referred to by British officials as a "Proclamation", thus giving it a quasi-legal status.

(5.) On Government of Burma maps, this area was identified as Sections AII and AIII of the "Triangle".

(6.) The name of this village appears to be the basis for the factional name Kumlao or Gumlao.


Adams, P.F. "Report on Raids by Ponyo, Tsawlaw and Law Nawkun". From the Office of Deputy Commissioner, Naga Hills, Kohima, 22 October 1946, to Governor's Advisor. India Office file Ext 5371/1947. Assam, Shillong, 1946.

Assam. "Kidnapping of Indians for Human Sacrifice by Nagas". Letter from Chief Secretary, Government of Assam to Chief Secretary, Government of India, 15 November 1922. Mimeographed. India Office file J&P 4041/1922.

--. "A Review of the Policy of Political Control". Assam Legislative Assembly and Political Proceedings 11282 (Political A), no. 13 (February 1923): 1-7.

--. Assam Legislative Assembly and Political Proceedings. Assam Secretariat Proceedings 11737 (Political A), nos. 107-26. June 1928.

Barnard, J.T.O. Report of a Tour Made by Mr J.T.O. Barnard in the Hukawng Valley from 9th March to 9th April 1925. India Office file P&J 2463/1925. 1925.

--. Report on the Hukawng Valley Expedition)Or the Liberation of Slaves, Season 1925-26. India Office file P&J 2980/1926. Rangoon: Government Printing and Stationery, 1926.

--. Report on the Expedition to the "Triangle" for the Liberation of Slaves, Season 1926-27. India Office file P&J 2091/1927. Rangoon: Government Printing and Stationery, 1927a.

--. Report on an Expedition for the Release of Slaves in an Area Known as the "Triangle" and Other Areas in the Myitkyina District During the Season December 1926 to May 1927. India Office file P&J 2091/1927. Rangoon: Office of the Superintendent, 1927b.

--. Report on a Second Expedition to the "Triangle" for the Liberation of Slaves, Season 1927-28. India Office file P&J 3025/1928. Rangoon: Government Printing and Stationery, 1928.

Burma. Letter from Chief Secretary to Government of Burma, no. 366B-22. India Office file P&J 2463/1925. Rangoon, Political Department, 12 February 1925.

Butler, Governor Harcourt. "Report on My Visit to the Hukawng Valley and the Arrangements Made and Proposed to Abolish Slavery and End Human Sacrifice". No. 366B-22. India Office files P&J 2463/1925 and P&J 3066/1925. Rangoon, 12 February 1925a.

--. "Speech Delivered by His Excellency Sir Harcourt Butler, C.G.I.E., K.C.S.I., Governor of Burma, at Maingkwan, Hukawng Valley, on January 27th 1925". India Office file P&J 2463/1925. 1925b.

Carter, A.N.L. "Letter to A.W. Botham, Delhi, 29 March 1921". No. 986 E.B. Assam Legislative Assembly and Political Proceedings 11282 (Political A), no. 12 (February 1923): 1-4. 1923.

Cosgrove, W.A. "Human Sacrifice in the Sadiya Frontier Tract". Letter from Chief Secretary, Government of Assam, 30 July 1931. Assam Legislative Assembly and Political Proceedings 11892 (Political A), no. 19 (September 1931).

Crace, J.H. "Human Sacrifices in the Sadiya Frontier Tract". Mimeographed. India Office file PZ 5299/1931. 1931.

Dewar, T.P. Report of an Expedition to the Hukawng Valley and Naga Hills (Burma) During the Season December 1926 to May 1927. India Office file P&J 2163/ 1927. Rangoon: Office of the Superintendant, 1927a.

--. Report on the Naga Hills (Burma) Expedition for the Abolition of Human Sacrifice, Season 1926-1927. India Office file P&J 2163/1927. Rangoon: Government Printing and Stationery, 1927b.

Englishman (Calcutta). "Slavery and Sacrifices Prevalent in Naga Hills", 19 March 1923. India Office file J&P 2411/1923. 1923.

Furer-Haimendorf, Christoph Von. The Naked Nagas. 2nd rev. ed. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink, 1962.

Furze, T.E. "North-East Frontier, Human Sacrifice in the Sadiya Frontier Tract". India Office file PZ 1478/1932. 1932.

Government of India. The Slavery Convention and Communications to the League of Nations Regarding Slavery in India. India Office file P&J 3016/1928. 1928a.

--. Memorandum on Measures for the Abolition of Slavery in Burma. India Office file P&J 3016/1928. Public and Judicial Department, 1928b.

--. Slavery and Human Sacrifice in Burma. India Office file 3016/1928. Public and Judicial Department, 1928c.

--. Future Policy as to the Suppression of Slavery in the Neighborhood of the Burma Frontier. Council Minute, 3 October 1928. India Office file P&J 4125/ 1928. Public and Judicial Department, 1928d.

Green, Captain J.H. "Account of a Tour in the `Triangle'" (Confidential). India Office file P&J 1131/1928. n.d. [circa 1926]

Hall, D.G.E. A History of South-East Asia. London: Macmillan, 1955.

Hutton, J.H. "Letter of J.H. Hutton, Kohima, on Human Sacrifice in the Naga Hills", 1 April 1923, to the Englishman, Calcutta; "Human Sacrifice, the Making of a Naga Warrior", Englishman, 20 March 1923. Mimeographed. India Office file J&P 4978/1923. 1923.

--. "Extract from Tour Diary of the Deputy Commissioner, Naga Hills (1926)". Assam Legislative Assembly and Political Proceedings, Assam Secretariat Proceedings 11737 (Political A, no. 147 of 1927). September 1928.

Leonard, P.M.R. Report of the Third Expedition to the "Triangle" for the Liberation of Slaves, Season 1928-29. India Office file P&J 2966/1929. Maymyo: Government Branch Press, 1929.

Mitchell, H.J. "Report on Two Months' Tour in the Unadministered Naga Area West of the Chindwin, Opposite Singaling Hkamti State During the Months of January-February 1927". India Office file P&J 2163/1927. Rangoon: Government Printing and Stationery, 1927.

--. Report on the Naga Hills (Upper Chindwin) Expedition for the Abolition of Human Sacrifice, January to March 1928. India Office file P&J 3025/1928. Rangoon: Government Printing and Stationery, 1928a.

--. "Burma-Naga Hills (Upper Chindwin) Expedition for the Purpose of Discouraging Human Sacrifice, Tour Diary of Officer in Charge". Mimeographed. India Office file P&J 1974/1928. 1928b.

--. Report on the Naga Hills (Upper Chindwin) Expedition for the Release of Slaves and the Suppression of Human Sacrifice (15th December 1928 to 14th April 1929). India Office file P&J 2966/1929. Maymyo: Government Branch Press, 1929.

Pawsey, Sir Charles. "Interview by Author at Badingham". Suffolk, England, 21 October 1968.

Pioneer Mail. "Human Sacrifice", 23 March 1923. India Office file J&P 2411/1923. 1923.

Porter, A.W. Report of the Expedition to the Hukawng Valley and the Naga Hills (Burma), Season December 1928 to May 1929. India Office file P&J 2966/ 1929. Maymyo: Government Branch Press, 1929.

Rich, E.T. "Report from Lt. Col. E.T. Rich, Officer in Charge, No. 10 Survey Party, Survey of India, No. 559, 15 May 1922". Mimeographed. India Office file 4041/1922. 1922a.

--. "Liberation of Slaves in the Hukawng Valley, 1921-22". Mimeographed. India Office file P&J 2411/1923. 1922b.

--. "Human Sacrifice in the Naga Hills, and on Slaves in the Hukawng and the Naga Hills Lying to the West and North-West of the Hukawng for 1922-23". Mimeographed. India Office file P&J 4414/1923. 1923.

Roberts, Capt. V.G. 1929. Report on a Third Expedition to the "Triangle" for the Liberation of Slaves, Season 1928-2.9, North Column. India Office file P&J 2966/ 1929. Maymyo: Government Branch Press, 1929.

Soames, G.E. "Letter from Chief Secretary, Government of Assam, to Foreign Secretary, Government of India, 15 January 1932". No. 2567-417-18-A.P. Mimeographed. India Office file PZ 1478/1932. 1932.

Star. "Human Sacrifice Victims Hoarded in Hills of Burma", 17 March 1923. India Office file J&P 2411/1923. 1923.

Times of India. "Human Sacrifices, Customs in Naga Hills", 23 March 1923. India Office file J&P 2411/1923. 1923.

Westminster Gazette. "Slaves for Sacrifice Hoarded for Big Prices, Hideous Scenes in Naga Hills, Kidnapping of Boys and Girls", 17 March 1923. India Office file J&P 2411/1923. 1923.

Williamson, Noel. "Extract from the Diary Kept by Noel Williamson, Assistant Political Officer at Sadiya, During a Tour in the Rangpang Hills in December 1908". India Office file P&J 4041/1922. 1908.

Gordon P. Means is Professor of Political Science at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:MEANS, Gordon P.
Publication:SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia
Date:Oct 1, 2000
Previous Article:Thai Rural Enterprise Development Strategies in the 1990s: A Critical Appraisal.
Next Article:Gender, "Aliens", and the National Imaginary in Contemporary Malaysia.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |