Day 10: The Naga Queen
Rupert Winchester pulls another page from the history books of Nagaland and tells you a tale about a brave Naga Queen
We were phenomenally delighted to have a remarkable guest speaker here at Kohima Camp last night. Catriona Child is a British-born expert on Nagaland and the people who live here.
Her love for Nagaland was originally fostered by her mother, who is one of the most remarkable characters ever to grace the Naga stage, and I think it’s worth taking a look at her fascinating life and career, which throws a light on India, imperial Britain and the Seven Sisters.
Catriona’s mother, Ursula Graham Bower was the subject of a piece in London’s Daily Mail newspaper recently headlined “The Deb who became a guerrilla: The Rodean-educated beauty who saved the Empire from the Japanese”. Typically for the Mail, this isn’t strictly incorrect, but misses much of what Graham Bower was all about.
Ursula Graham Bower was born in England in 1914, the daughter of a Royal Navy commander. Financial strictures meant that she couldn’t go to university, instead she was packed off to India in 1937, ostensibly to find a husband. Instead, she lost her heart to the Naga hills.
Ursula returned to India in 1939 “to potter about with a few cameras and do a bit of medical work, maybe write a book.” Her photographs proved to be a great hit with ethnographers, and she became, somewhat unwittingly, an anthropologist.
Over the years she took more than a thousand photographs documenting the lives of local tribes, which were later used in a comparative study. Bower never received any formal training in anthropology. Only in 1950 did she receive a postgraduate diploma in anthropology from the University of London.
At the start of the Second World War she was back in London, but planned to return to the Naga Hills. She finally got permission to live among the Naga people in Laisong village, in an area known as the North Cachar Hills in Assam.
Here she won the friendship and confidence of the local village headmen; many Nagas believed her to be a reincarnation of a spiritual and political leader called Gaidinliu, despite the fact that Gaidinliu wasn’t actually dead.
When the Japanese invaded Burma in 1942 and threatened to move on India, the British asked her to form her local Nagas into a band of scouts to comb the jungle for the Japanese.
Bower mobilised the Nagas, with herself at their head, initially leading a troop of 150 armed only with ancient muzzle-loading guns across some 2,000 square kilometers of insanely mountainous jungle.
She was eventually given her own unit, nicknamed ‘Bower Force’. Graham Bower’s outfit became so effective that the Japanese even put a price on her head. Her weapon of choice was the Sten gun, some of which she actually wore out.
She codified a series of main and secondary trails through the Naga hills, and thousands of evacuees, deserters, escaped prisoners and bailed-out airmen fled from Burma to India along her routes.
Bower also led ambushes of Japanese search parties. And she became the subject of an American comic book called Jungle Queen. She hated it. In 1945 she was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for her actions in Nagaland.
After the war she married a British political officer, and lived near Tibet, Kenya, and then on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. She died in 1988;however her legend still lives on in the Naga hills.
To live in the hills where this Naga Queen fought valiantly, BOOK NOW!
To read the previous installment of Rupert’s article, click here!