The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

miscellaneous papers, notebooks and letters on Nagas by Ursula Graham Bower, 1937-1947

caption: 'The Daughters-in-Law' - myth
medium: notes
ethnicgroup: Zemi
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1937-1946
person: private collection
text: Once there was an old man who had eight sons, and he got wives for all of them. Now the old man had a fine necklace, very valuable and very heavy, and all the wives wanted it.
text: "Very well," said the old man, "Let all of them go and prepare zu and I will see which is the best wife and give it to her."
text: That night he went secretly and slipped an egg into each woman's dhan-pounder, and when first thing in the morning the women got up and began pounding furiously in order to be first with the zu, the eggs smashed and the more they pounded the worse was the mess. The youngest of all, however, stopped to clean out her dhan-pounder before she began, and found the egg, which she took and showed to her father-in-law.
text: "Arre! he said. "The hen must have laid it there!"
text: Now all the other wives had prepared great vats of zu, thinking to please the old man that way; but the youngest girl prepared only a very little, and that very carefully, and the old man found hers much the best. However, he said nothing but: "I am hungry. Prepare me food, that I may eat."
text: Then the wives set to and prepared quantities of meat and vegetables and chillies. The youngest girl prepared only a little, but so carefully that it was delicious, and the old man said only:
text: "I am an old man and feel cold, so I shall sleep by the fire. Go and get fine big pieces of fresh wood to build up the fire and keep me warm."
text: Off went all the wives and cut quantities of wood, but the youngest girl only pulled off bark and took that back.
text: "Apao," she said. "I have only brought this, not fine logs like the others; if I go far into the jungle my children will be hungry and cry; so what shall I do?"
text: The others put their wood on the fire, but the logs were full of sap and refused to burn, and clouds of smoke filled the house; but the girl put the bark on carefully, bit by bit, and it burned with a bright, clear flame and the old man was warm.
text: Then he said: "we will all go to the fields." They all went together, and on the way the old man said: "Look, at that huluk in the tree!"
text: Now there was no huluk, but the wives, thinking to please him, cried out: "Oh, yes, I see it!" "Look, there are two!" "No, three!" and so on. Only the youngest said: "Apao, there must be something wrong with my eyesight. You and all the others can see it, but I can see only the tree."
text: Then the old man said: "you are short-sighted and afflicted and greatly to be pitied, and so I shall give you the necklace." And he took it off and put it over her head.
text: F.C.
text: LATER VERSION: Then the old man said: "there is no huluk, so where could you see it?" and he took off the necklace and put it over her head.