Lockdown: India-Myanmar frontier tribes dream of unity

Finding Nagaland: Tribes on India-Myanmar frontier dream of unity amid coronavirus lockdown

 Tonyei Phawng, king of the Konyak tribe, talking to AFP during an interview inside his home in Longwa village in Myanmar's Sagaing region, near the border with India. - The king of the Konyak tribe sleeps in Myanmar, but eats in India -- his house, village and people divided by a mountain border which serves as a vulnerable lifeline now severed by a coronavirus lockdown. (Photo by AFP)

The king of the Konyak tribe sleeps in Myanmar, but eats in India -- his house, village and people divided by a mountain border which serves as a vulnerable lifeline now severed by a coronavirus lockdown.

The Konyak are just one of dozens of Naga tribes, a people yearning to reunite the 3 million living in India with their 400,000 estranged -- and much poorer -- cousins in Myanmar's isolated far north.

Many from Myanmar cross the border to attend school, sell vegetables or visit a hospital, as it is a days-long journeys by foot to the nearest town in Myanmar.

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Tonyei Phawng claims to be the 12th generation of his family to rule the Konyak, whose feared tattooed warriors once brought home their enemies' heads as trophies. His son, the crown prince, will one day take over in a lineage many believe possess supernatural powers.

Dressed in civilian tracksuit and trainers in his village of Longwa, the 43-year-old king described to AFP in February how his Myanmar brothers were often stopped at the border and detained.

Days later, the border was shuttered, not at the whim of Indian soldiers, but due to the threat of COVID-19.

While the Indian government was providing some emergency rations, nothing had arrived from Myanmar authorities, Longwa-based tour guide Nahmai Konyak, 34, told AFP by phone.

Those living hand-to-mouth in Myanmar are finding it very difficult, he said. "We just can't help them."

Retreating British colonialists left behind the frontier after World War II, cleaving the Konyak tribe of 44 villages in two - alongside several other tribes. The Naga on both sides enjoy some degree of autonomy, but there is a huge disparity of development.