Burmese Missionaries Allegedly Destroy Naga Cultural Relics

By Nyein Nyein 7 November 2016

Valuable cultural artifacts belonging to the Makury tribe—part of the Naga ethnic group—were allegedly destroyed in northwestern Burma’s Naga Self-Administered Zone by missionaries last month, according to the Council of Naga Affairs.

Since Oct. 6, at least two traditional “Morung” huts and a log drum were destroyed in Wahtaw village of Layshi Township and Makhwarle village in Lahe Township, both in Sagaing Division.

Despite the fact that an estimated 90 percent of Naga have converted to Christianity since missionaries first reached the ethnic group in the 19th century, the presence of the Morung structure is an important social institution in Naga villages, where people congregate for public matters.

Sai Aye, a Burmese Christian missionary, has been blamed for encouraging Makury locals to do away with the buildings and drum.

“The Makury villagers abandoned the things that God does not like and that are causing trouble,” he wrote in Burmese on social media on Monday, along with a notification that he was not able to be contacted as he is currently traveling through remote territory.

Athong Makury, the head of the Council of Naga Affairs  told The Irrawaddy that missionaries led by Sai Aye allegedly told villagers that recent crises afflicting the Naga community could be attributed to “the devil.”

The mountainous and remote Nagaland faced a two-month-long measles outbreak this year, which was revealed in August and claimed the lives of nearly 70 people, mostly children.

“People were threatened and forced to destroy our cultural beliefs and ornaments on the pretext of so-called evil,” Athong Makury said.

When the Council of Naga Affairs contacted the missionary to address the issue with their cultural committee, Sai Aye reportedly did not come forward.

Athong Makury said they “have requested that the concerned tribal councils send [Sai Aye] back to Layshi [town]” as he is reportedly still in rural Nagaland.

Sai Aye was initially brought to the region by the Naga Christian Revival Church (NCRC), which later apologized, and admitted that they did not foresee the alleged destruction of Naga cultural entities.

The Council of Naga Affairs said the missionary’s action breached Article 16 of the Protection and Preservation of Antique Objects Law, as well as Article 364 of Burma’s 2008 Constitution, which forbids the abuse of religion for political purposes, and Article 365, which protects citizens’ rights to freely develop literature, culture, art, and traditional customs.

The Makury Tribal Council and the Layshi Township Culture Committee will begin an investigation into the case at the community level, as tribal leaders have not yet filed a legal case with the judiciary.

According to the customary law, the most severe punishment is banishment from the region for those convicted of violating the statutes.