War  |  Memory  |  Gratitude

The Pangsha Letters

An Expedtion in 1936 to Rescue Slaves in the Naga Hills

by J P Mills C.S.I. C.I.E.

The Pangsha Letters are now available to read in full as originally published with restored images

This account of an expedition into unknown territory to rescue children who had been captured to sell as slaves, takes the form of letters which my father Philip Mills wrote daily to his wife while he was away on this dangerous journey. “There's no doubt of the risk,” he wrote, “It is about the nastiest job I have ever had to tackle.

Pangsha will certainly fight I am afraid. Their weapon is cross-bows with a range of 200 to 250 yards and poisoned arrows. If you hear nothing before you get this letter you will know I am all right, for I shall be back in friendly territory long before you get it.”

He did return safely, and managed to rescue all the slaves and reunite them with their families. As Deputy Commissioner (DC) Kohima, Mills was in overall charge of the expedition, and took with him 150 men of the Assam Rifles commanded by Major Bill Williams, and Smith, Sub-divisional Officer (SDO), Mokokchung. He also invited his good friend and fellow anthropologist Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf along, who was a superb photographer.

However, the fact that Mills was successful was due in no small measure to the invaluable contribution of his old friend Chingmak, chief of Chingmei, whose village was on the edge of the hostile area dominated by the warlike, powerful village of Pangsha. This was near the border with Burma but was so remote it was not on any maps. Chingmak had first met Mills when he was S.D.O. At Mokokchung many years earlier and they had been firm friends ever since.

Chingmak proudly bore the ornaments and tattoos of a successful headhunter as well as the red cloth provided by the Government signifying his status as a chief. He personally provided an escort of his hand-picked warriors on the dangerous path between Chingmei and Pangsha and was crucial in the negotiations to find the slaves. Mills wrote: “I had to say goodbye today to my old friend Chingmak. I am afraid we shall never meet again in this world. He nearly broke down when the moment came, and I hated it too. He is a Naga of the finest type and on this expedtion has been literally indispensable.

I have edited the letters and provided an introduction.

Geraldine Hobson, November 2014

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