Khonoma village is located about 20 km from the state capital, Kohima. The village, referred to as Khwunoria (named after the Angami term for a local plant, Glouthera fragrantisima), is estimated to be around 700 years old and is spread over an area of 123sq.km. The total population of the village is about 3000, settled in 600 households. Khonoma is famous for its forests and a unique form of agriculture, including some of the oldest terraced cultivation in the region. The terrain of the village is hilly, ranging from gentle slopes to steep and rugged hillsides. The hills are covered with lush forestland, rich in various species of flora and fauna. The state bird, Blyth’s tragopan, a pheasant now nationally endangered, is reprtedly found here.

Over a hundred years ago, advancing British troops found themselves facing a determined warrior tribe in the highlands of Nagaland. The Angami men of Khonoma, famed for their martial prowess and strategic skills, fought a resolute battle to safeguard their territory, inflicting heavy casualties on the foreign soldiers. The village is recorded to have resisted British rule in the region from 1830s to 1880. Finally a truce between the two stopped further bloodshed, but meanwhile Khonoma village had etched its name into the history of Indian resistance to the colonial invasion. Christianity was introduced in the village in 1890, and today most of the villagers are of this faith.

Preliminary ecological studies done so far record the use of about 250 plant species, including over 70 for medicinal purposes, 84 kinds of wild fruits, 116 kinds of wild vegetables, nine varieties of mushrooms, and five kinds of natural dyes from the surrounding forests in the village. Local people have recorded about 204 species of trees, nearly 45 varieties of orchids, 11 varieties of cane, and 19 varieties of bamboo. Villagers also record 25 types of snakes, six kinds of lizards, 11 kinds of amphibians and 196 kinds of birds (of which English names for 87 have been identified, including the grey-billed or Blyth’s tragopan, a threatened bird mentioned in the red data book of IUCN). 72 kinds of wild animals have also been reported by the local people; however English and scientific names for all have not been recorded yet. These include tiger, leopard, serow, sloth bear, Asiatic black bear and common otter..

Today, Khonoma is witnessing another historic struggle. In an incident reminiscent of the British invasion, in the mid-1990s the villagers had to physically resist timber merchants who came with several dozen elephants to carry out logging, unfortunately aided by some insiders. Over the last decade Khonoma, inhabited by the Angamis, one of Nagaland’s tribes, has made giant strides in establishing or strengthening systems of natural resource management, conflict resolution, village administration and appropriate development, all coupled with a resolute will to conserve biodiversity and wildlife. All this is embedded in the traditional ethos of the village, without fighting shy of experimenting with new technologies and thoughts from outside. The results are impressive enough to warrant yet another key historic place for this village, this time in the annals of India’s environmental movement.

Community conservation
Wildlife hunting is a way of life with the Naga tribes, and a large number of birds and animals are killed every year, including the endangered tragopans. In 1993, 300 Tragopans were reported to be killed for their meat in the village. This magnitude of killing concerned the more ecologically sensitive people of the village and they launched a crusade against hunting. These included some villagers and some who belonged to the village but now resided and were employed outside.

In 1998, the Khonoma village council declared its intention to notify about 2000 ha (20 sq km) as the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary (KNCTS). This was motivated by some of the village elders, notably Tsilie Sakhrie, who had in the 1980s been a contractor dealing with the Forest Department. During this time he had been having discussions with forest officer T. Angami, who motivated him to consider dedicating a part of the village forests to wildlife conservation. In the 1980s, Tsilie proposed that the village do something to this effect, but could not achieve a consensus. In 1995, he became a member of the village council. Concerned by the high number of birds being killed every year, Tsilie again broached the subject. A number of villagers were opposed to the idea, since hunting was so much a part of their culture. However, over the next three years, through extensive discussions in the village, the majority were convinced. The sanctuary’s foundation stone was laid in December 1998; it was also decided to ban hunting in the entire village, not only the sanctuary area.

Conservation is only one of the elements of social empowerment at Khonoma. Visitors to the village are confronted with a bewildering number of activities and processes that its residents seem to be engaged in. Some of these are new, some age-old. Khonoma may well be the only village in India that has a global citizenry with an active self-identity; every year, 1 September is celebrated as the village’s ‘birthday’, with Khonomaians from far and wide coming to the village to celebrate, or carrying out celebrations wherever they may be.

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