Matmur Jamoh: Arunachal Pradesh Freedom Fighter Who Killed British Officer; Jailed at Kalapani
Matmur Jamoh! He is hailed as a hero in the Yangrung village of Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh. The state pays tribute every year for his martyrdom for the nation. But does the rest of India know about this brave warrior from the Northeast? No! A pity that we grew up reading more about the glories of invaders rather than the heroic exploits of warriors from east to the west, north to the south.
Pasighat in the East Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh at the eastern foothills of the Himalayas is home to Adi tribesmen. It is the northeastern state’s oldest town. The Adis are also known as Abors or Abhors, meaning ‘barbarous’, a term coined by neighbouring communities of the plains. After Independence, they appealed to the government to be termed as Adis. This place is home to few brave warriors of Bharat Mata who fought valorously against Britishers. Matmur Jamoh and a group of Adi warriors collectively killed two British officers and their attendants in 1911. Though Pasighat has an ancient origin, the British established it as a colonial outpost in 1911 as gateway to the greater Abor hills and northern area of Arunachal Pradesh.
The British established their supremacy in parts of the northeastern states after the Treaty of Yandaboo signed in 1826 with Burma. As per the treaty, the British would occupy Assam, Manipur, Rakhine (Arakan), and the Taninthayi (Tenasserim) coast south of the Salween River besides supremacy in Cachar and the Jaintia Hills district. After the treaty was signed, the British planted tea gardens in most of these places and stationed British planters and forces. Besides, they established bazaars or trade marts where they sold products to the tribals and locals and minted money. Soon the British started establishing their supremacy in the Northeastern kingdoms. Since 1875 the British India government firmly decided to push the outer line to further north. It was in the 1900s that the British moved inwards towards the hill regions of Arunachal Pradesh.
Most of Adis and other tribes raided the neighboring lowlands including those annexed by the British. Few Adi communities worth mentioning are Pasi, Padam and Minyong. This led to three Anglo-Adi wars in 1858, 1859, and 1894. During the process, the British burnt down villages, destroyed crops and granaries, razed houses to the ground and killed hundreds of tribals who offered resistance. Though their tribal weaponry were no match to the advanced artillery of the British, yet the latter could not crush the indomitable spirits of the Adis until 1911. It was in 1911 after the last Anglo-Adi war that Pasighat entered into the map of British colonial rulers.
Matmur Jamoh was an Adi warrior. He was the Kebang Abu, the headman of Yangrung village where he was born. Sucheta Sen Chaudhuri wrote in Pasighat: Post-colonial Geography and History in Interface in Glocal Colloquies journal, “Matmur Jamoh was middle aged with medium stature figure and was appreciably a good orator. He had an adamant attitude…”
Captain Neol Williamson was then the Assistant Political Officer at Sadiya in Assam in the beginning of the 1900s. Soon after his appointment, he started a tour expedition with Colonel D.M. Lumsden, W.L.B. Jackman and more Britishers into the interiors of the north-eastern hills beyond his jurisdiction. They entered Pasighat in 1908 without sanction from the British govt. to enter the Adi territory. Their objective was to gather detailed knowledge of the tribal land in addition to exploring the possibilities of a trade route through these hills to Tibet. One of their objectives was to find influence of China if any in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh. The British employed local tribesmen as porters and collected ration supply for themselves without making any substantial payment. Besides, they interfered into the freedom of the Adi tribesmen and humiliated them often.
Do you know the Adi tribes follow the Donyi-Polo religion, an indigenous faith? Donyi represents the Sun and Polo the Moon. They call themselves Donyi O, Polo Ome, meaning children of the sun and the moon or children of truth.
The Adis termed the British as Milun, meaning Whites. In 1908, the British toured the Pasi, Gallong and Minyong villages. They returned again the next year and then in 1911. In 1909, Neol Williamson had humiliated Matmur Jamoh. In 1911, Williamson was accompanied by Dr. J.D. Gregorson, a doctor employed by the British as medical in charge of Tinsukia and Lakhimpur tea gardens. They were further accompanied by 34 Gurkhali coolies, 10 Miris, 2 orderlies and three servants.
Matmur Jamoh did not like the advancement of the Britishers into the interior of the Adi lands. For a better journey, the British employed Adi people as labor to clear the paths. They also forced them to carry loads and supply of ration. They tried to prove their superiority over the Adis. Matmur Jamoh did not like this behavior of the British meted out to his tribal folks.
There were more than a score villages in Pasighat. On 18thMarch 1911, this group reached Rottung in Pasighat and halted there for the night. During the night some provisions of the group went missing. Neol Williamson demanded the villagers that the guilty were to be presented before him till he returned back. The next day the party marched up to Pangi village and stayed there waiting for the arrival of the porters. The British captain’s guts to threaten the Adis in the Adi land angered the latter. On 30th March, Willamson marched further to Yangrung, leaving Dr. Gregorson and three coolies in the camp in Pangi.
Willamson and his men camped at Komsing in Yangrung. Matmur Jamoh organised a council of village headmen and discussed about stopping the British from advancing further into the Adi territory. They devised plans of killing all the Britishers and their men in the expedition and also strategized about stopping Britishers from entering the Adi hills in future. Matmur Jamoh led by few Adi warriors attacked Williamson’s camp the next day, i.e. 31st March at 10:00 a.m and killed all of them. Following the instructions of Matmur Jamoh, another group of the Adi tribesmen went to Pangi camp and killed Dr. Gregorson and his group. Only a few managed to escape to relay the news of this assassination at the British post at Sadiya.
The British immediately set to action. They sent a force of1000 soldiers and military police led by Major General Hamilton Bower to Pasighat to arrest Matmur Jamoh and his men who were involved in the killing of Noel Williamson, Dr. Gregorson and their attendants. On 18th December, the British army reached Yangrung village and camped there. They set fire to the nearby Kebang village and demanded that the Adi tribals cooperate to arrest Matmur Jamoh to avoid further destruction. The Adi tribesmen retaliated bravely, but in vain. This war took place at a mountain cliff near Rottung.
To avenge the British killings, Bower attacked more Adi habitations, destroying houses and crops and torturing the Adi people. He tortured Matmur Jamoh’s wife Yasi and son Matkep. The Abor Expedition continued for a few months until Matmur Jamoh along with few others surrendered to stop British atrocities in the Adi villages in Pasighat. The brave freedom fighters were arrested and taken in chains to Kalapani (Cellular jail). There are hardly any records about Matmur Jamoh’s last days in the jail. He died in obscurity.
According to a Telegraph India report, Bosiram Siram, Arunachal Pradesh education minister visited Cellular Jail in the Andamans in 2005. He searched in the records where political prisoners from the mainland were interned. But the authorities were unable to provide any records about Matmur Jamoh.
Salute to Matmur Jamoh and the brave Adi warriors.
1. Pasighat: Post-colonial Geography and History in Interface; Glocal Colloquies, Sucheta Sen Chaudhuri
Featured image courtesy: Flickr and bharatuntoldstory.