U Kiang Nangbah’s last words on the gallows echoed the hope and aspirations of a nation longing for independence. Little known but deeply revered, U Kiang Nangbah was a valiant revolutionary who challenged British rule during the 1857 War of Indian Independence. On 30th December 2022, the state of Meghalaya commemorated the 158th death anniversary of this remarkable freedom fighter, whose legacy continues to inspire the nation.
Born in the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya, U Kiang Nangbah witnessed the British annexation of his homeland in 1835. Growing up in the Tpep-pale locality, Nangbah keenly observed the cultural clashes and discriminatory policies imposed by the British colonial state. These early experiences instilled in him a deep hatred towards the foreign rulers and shaped his path as a future freedom fighter.
As the British government imposed taxes and interfered with local customs, the tribes of the Jaintia Hills harbored a growing anti-British sentiment. The establishment of a British police station near a sacred cremation ground and religious intolerance through missionary schools further fueled the resentment. In 1860, when the British introduced the house tax, the tribes united under Nangbah’s leadership to resist the oppressive regime.
Under Nangbah’s guidance, the tribes launched daring attacks on the British, destroying a police station and its weapons. They constructed barricades, stored provisions, and manufactured weapons to sustain their guerrilla warfare strategy. Employing bows, arrows, swords, and shields, they struck at the heart of the British administration. After each attack, they swiftly vanished into the nearby jungles, eluding capture.
In response to the escalating resistance, the British launched extensive military operations in the Jaintia Hills. With the help of a traitor, the British captured Nangbah when he fell severely ill during the revolution. The authorities wasted no time, subjecting him to a mock trial in just three days. Despite facing certain death, Nangbah remained defiantly courageous until the end.
As Nangbah stood on the gallows, he prophesied that if his face turned eastwards after his execution, his country would be free from foreign oppression within a century. Remarkably, his face did turn eastwards, and his prophecy became a beacon of hope for generations to come.
In honor of U Kiang Nangbah’s sacrifice and bravery, the government established the “Kiang Nangbah Government College” in Jowai, Meghalaya, in 1967. His memory was further immortalized when the Government of India issued a postage stamp in his name in 2001. The “Kiang Nangbah Monument,” a magnificent hollow tower with a typical Jaintia design, stands as a tribute on the banks of the Myntdu River in the Jaintia Hills District, Meghalaya.