Haipou Jadonang was born in 1905 in the Kambiron village of the Tamenglong district in Manipur. He hailed from a poor peasant family that were descendants of the Malangmei clan of the Rongmei Naga tribe. He was the youngest of three sons. Very early in his life, he took to spiritualism and prayed for hours on end. He spent time in places like the Bhuvan Pahar in Silchar (Assam) and Zeilad Lake (Manipur), which were sites of religious significance for the Nagas. Here, he would prophesize and also use local herbs and medicines to heal the people who came to him with their ailments.
Eventually, Jadonang was seen as a spiritual figure, and he gained prominence amongst the Zeliangrong tribal community, which was one of the many important indigenous Naga communities that lived at the tri-junction of Assam, Manipur, and Nagaland, under which the Rongmei Nagas fell.
In his growing years, Jadonang had observed how the British imposed their religion and way of life on the Nagas, and he felt that their attempts to convert the Nagas were a serious threat to the indigenous faith, customs, and traditions of the community. To appease the authorities and escape economic hardships, many Nagas converted to Christianity. This turn of events prompted Jadonang to work for the revival of the Naga culture and revolt against the Imperial oppression that was going on.
World War I was a defining moment in the Naga battle against the British. Nagas from various tribes enrolled in the British Indian Army. During the War, they served as members of the Work Corps in important battlegrounds such as Mesopotamia and France. On foreign soil, these tribes came together, which resulted in the formation of the Naga Club. This show of solidarity amongst the Nagas cut across the various tribes and communities. According to some historians, Jadonang also served in the Labour Corps during World War I. This assignment was instrumental in infusing anti-colonial sentiments in him. Another account contradicts such assertions, claiming that there is no evidence to support them, as Jadonang was too young at that time to enlist.
What is indisputable is that Jadonang founded the Heraka (Pure) socio-political movement that was based on ancient Naga customs and practices. He also developed the Heraka religious reform movement that centred around the worship of a superior ‘creator’ Tingkao Ragwang. These movements were instrumental in bringing about unity and social solidarity amongst the tribes that ultimately resulted in the political integration of the Zeliangrong people.
Jadonang’s ultimate aim was to challenge the Imperial rule. He travelled on horseback dressed like a Britisher to avoid being detected. He was even arrested and jailed for this action. Post his release from jail, he gathered people and established an army of about 500 men and women, comprised of the youth and elderly alike. The members of this indigenous force called ‘Riphen’, were not just trained in warfare activities like military strategizing, weaponry, and reconnaissance missions, but also helped with civilian matters such as livestock, farming, grazing, and firewood collection. Such was his popularity, that some tribal communities offered taxes and tributes to him, which angered the British authorities, as it was now eating into their revenue.
Jadonang was arrested by the British authorities on false allegations of sedition and murder charges and was hanged to death in 1931 after the court found him guilty. However, his legacy was carried further by Rani Gaidinliu, his disciple. Today, the life of the “Messiah King” of the Nagas is hailed and celebrated. Every year on August 29, the members of the Naga community, especially the Zeliangrongs, celebrate his death anniversary with traditional songs, dances, and festivities.