I have been so fortunate to spend time with Apuo Zhavise who turns 94 this year. His clear mind and perfect memory power never fail to amaze me at every meeting. Apuo is Zhavise Vihienuo, elder brother of the late Rev Deo Vihienuo and father to Thejao Vihienuo, former Registrar of Nagaland University.
Apuo has recently brought out a book entitled A runa dze
, The story of my village. It is a valuable record of village settling and the rich lore of the village which he had received from several oral narrators. Although he has been a resident of Kohima for more than seventy years, Apuo's heart is in the village of Chiechama and he never misses any opportunity to visit for a few days. Apuo's house in the village sits at a central point, a warm old wooden structure where he and his wife used to welcome visitors with good food and open hearts. His wife has since then gone ahead of him.
The house is still there, as welcoming as ever, a legacy they have passed on to the next generation. In my mind's eye I can still see the porch with the white paint peeling off the banisters, the swampy ground to the right where a blue weed was blooming in abundant clusters while a puppy chased a neighbour's young pig into a fenced garden. We were there to film the legendary stone of Chiecha village from which the village had gotten its name.
Apuo was presently joined by three more of his clansmen, regally dressed in their black lohe and red gaonbura blanket carrying walking sticks that gladdened my heart because they looked like spears on camera. Apuo led us to the house of his ancestor Rio, with the stump of the stone sticking out of an abandoned kitchen. There he began his story with his friends looking on and making additions where they felt necessary. This was the gist of the story:
Once upon a time, our ancestor and his wife dwelt here in this very spot. This was their bedroom and this was their kitchen. The man and his wife had a rooster, and a hen with her brood of young chickens. The stump of the stone that you see was a magic stone that grew every day and our ancestor's wife beat it down with a big stone. However, one night the man had a dream and the stone spoke to him saying, 'Tonight before your rooster can crow I am going to grow until I touch the sky.' The man woke up with a start.He narrated his dream to his wife and when evening came, they sat around the stone and waited. To their surprise the stone began to grow and grow, and it did not stop until it was ab out to touch the sky. Suddenly a weak crowing was heard. It was not the rooster but it was one of the young chickens. At the crowing, the stone ab ruptly stopped growing and began to crack until finally it fell to the ground in many fragments. The top of the stone landed in Lazami village and the middle portion fell into the village of Gariphe. The stump of the stone can still be found in the ruins of our ancestor's house, and this is how our village came to be named. It has ever since been called, Chiechama, the village of the long stone.
Apuo's storytelling went into a documentary called Stone Stories. It was late afternoon when we finished shooting and drove back home. But Apuo's story stayed with me a long time and cast a hue over the village which I had never known before. The ruins of the abandoned kitchen harkened back to times when the spiritual was at the heart of the village. I hoped to return to listen to more stories and cultural nuggets that we are always too busy to relish and gather from. Most of all there was the realisation that Apuo and his clansmen were repositories of living history. They were carrying the history of the village, and several other histories in addition. Elsewhere in other developed nations, men like Apuo would have been considered as national treasures and their knowledge and lore of the land properly documented. I hope it won't be too late for us to start such a project too. There are still a considerable number of storytellers with us from whom we can glean native wisdom as well as let them know how valuable their existence is to the community.
From Apuo I learned the tale of another of his ancestors named Vihienuo, the great warrior whose fame had made his village impenetrable to enemy attacks for many years. It was not a tale of blood and gore, it was a tale of a noble hearted ancestor who took on the task of defending his village against enemy warriors so that his villagers could cultivate their fields free from harassment.
This Christmas Apuo and his 'co-brother in law' Rükhier Rio hosted the village. Apuo Rükhier is Apuo Zhavise’s cousin. They were born in the same year and married two girls from their village who were sisters. This made them co-brothers-in-law, a term used only in Indian English but works to explain kinship and the exact relationship of two people. Together they feasted the village to celebrate the fact that all members of their village had become Christians in their lifetime.
While he was working under Deputy Commissioner Pawsey, Apuo took an additional story to different parts of Nagaland where he was sent to inspect the possibility of opening schools as part of the Post War Development Scheme. He inspected very many villages in Angami, Chokri, Zeliang, Sumi, Kuki and Lotha areas. His travels took him by foot to far flung areas where there were few or no churches. With the perseverance and gentle strength that is characteristic of him, he taught the gospel of peace in all these areas. His reward was seeing these people come to Christ in the course of ten years, abandoning age old conflicts to embrace a more peaceful way of life. Spears and daos were laid down by feuding groups who then joined hands to build up the church. Not all of these stories have gone into his book, because Apuo is modest by nature and many of his adventures and achievements are not recorded. It needs the patience of a long evening to draw out these stories from him. It is at such times they are narrated and received in mutual trust.
At one point of his adult life, Apuo served in the Assam Regiment and trained as a motorcyclist, an event hard to imagine now when I see his shock of white hair and careful steps aided by his cane. But he still carries himself like a former soldier, shoulders straightened to lend dignity to his posture. I can't ever recollect seeing Apuo looking shabby. In the early years I always found him seated in his study, neatly dressed in immaculately ironed shirt and trousers matched by shining shoes, reflecting the best qualities of the soldier.
Apuo belongs to that species of the old world Naga, men with gracious good manners who did their part in life and felt it below their dignity to stoop to corrupt ways. After meeting him again, I felt that Nagaland should consider itself a blessed place when we still have men of his ilk with us. And learn from him. Learn how to love our fellow men and serve them unselfishly, simply so we can have a better world to live in. Learn to appreciate the inheritance of living history that he carries with him as carefully guarded treasure to share with the rest of us. In this day when we are so bereft of heroes, he is one of my heroes and I stop to let myself be inspired by his life and the principles he lives by. I perceive that like his ancestor, the warrior Vihienuo, Apuo has chosen to forget the times he has been treated ill. In our long exchanges, I cannot remember him ever naming a litany of foes.
Apuo's hearing is perfect and his sight the envy of much younger men. The health he is enjoying in the autumn of his life is evidence of a spirit that has not harboured grievances and injustices. Long may he live reminding us of the blessing of a gracious life.
Originally published at www.easternmirrornagaland.com