‘HIS MAJESTY’S HEADHUNTERS’: The Siege of Kohima that shaped world history

Mmhonlümo Kikon

Mmhonlümo Kikon

In conversation with poet, author & politician, Mmhonlümo Kikon

Vishü Rita Krocha 
Kohima | November 24  

“There have been many narratives from the colonial administrators who were also ethnographers in their own right. And then there are a dozen books on the denouement of the colonial rule- the battle of Kohima.” However, in the words of Mmhonlümo Kikon, “the chronological order of the British empire’s hold over the Naga hills and the battle of Kohima has always been treated separately, ignoring or vivisecting the crucial connection.”

This is where it also became pertinent for him “to write the history encompassing all narratives over the colonial period.” In an exclusive interview with The Morung Express on his first nonfiction book- ‘His Majesty’s Headhunters’ published by Penguin Random House, Mmhonlümo Kikon revealed that the book is a result of a lifelong interest in the colonial history of the Naga Hills.

As the title clearly suggests, he elucidated that, “‘His Majesty’s Headhunters’ is a depiction of the British empire’s engagement with the Naga Headhunters who subsequently went on to assist the British empire in the battle of Kohima against the Japanese Imperial Army despite 46 years of hostility at the beginning.”

Giving further insight, he articulated that the title of the book was chosen after a lot of thought on the matter while also highlighting that, “although Queen Victoria was definitely the ruler for the major part that the British East India Company and the British empire traversed the Naga Hills, the year that the British expedition started and the period the battle of Kohima was fought, Great Britain had King William IV and King George VI on the throne respectively.”

Kikon also expressed that in the process of writing the book, he has used all the sources available for the periods discussed even while putting across that, “for many historians, there are giants on whose shoulders we stand on to write. And then there are the storehouses of oral historians we meet to learn about the past.” “I have therefore included elaborate pages of footnotes indicating the materials referred to for the book. Anyone reading my book will necessarily have to read the footnotes to appreciate the context”, he added.

With the 256-page book containing many nuances of the colonial period which have not been written or discussed before, he hoped that ‘His Majesty’s Headhunters’ would “engage the readers into that period where the natives were engaged in the geo-political theatre of resource, revenue, and global domination under the British Empire’s insatiable expansionary agenda.”

While it took him about two years to write the book, he underlined that the research had been ongoing for the longest time.

Mmhonlümo Kikon is an Aspen Fellow and the author of three poetry collections including Slingstones (2021), The Village Empire (2019) and The Penmi Poems (2018). However, he has also always been interested in writing literary non-fiction and having been an avid reader of books related to history, politics and sociology, this rare historical account of the significance of the Battle of Kohima hardly comes as surprising.

Kikon completed his master’s in English Literature from Delhi University and was also a two time legislator in the Nagaland Legislative Assembly. He lives in Kohima with his wife, two daughters and son.