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 Birth of the Spirits' - creation myth
medium: notes
keywords: KatsingpeoTsiuperai
ethnicgroup: Zemi
location: Mahadeo Mt. Japvo Mt.
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1937-1946
person: private collection
text: Once there was a herapeo who lived alone, and he dreamed that if he cut off two of his fingers they would become a wife and a sister (her name was Zale). When he woke he cut off two fingers, and a wife and a sister they became. The sister was a great worker, and was always fetching wood and water, and she was in and out of the house so frequently that he never had any privacy in which to enjoy his wife. At last he took a big basket full of small seeds, and spilt them all in the rough grass, telling his sister that if she did not pick them all up and put them back in the basket he would take his dao and kill her. Then he went back to the house and his wife, and had connection with her.
text: The sister picked up the seeds so quickly that she returned to the house too soon and saw her brother having connection with his wife. The sight so affected her that she cried out and said she felt she was going to lay an egg.
text: "Oh, oh!" she cried. " I am going to lay an egg. What shall I do, and where shall I go to lay it?"
text: Her brother told her to go far away, to a rocky nullah, and take with her a plantain tree, a dao and a huluk. So she went, and planted the plantain tree and stuck the dao in the ground beside it, and laid eight eggs. Then she went away, and left the huluk to keep watch.
text: After a while the first egg hatched and out of it came Katsingpeo, the spirit of the hill Mahadeo, but the light outside was so bright it frightened him and he covered his eyes and quickly ducked down inside the shell again. Then the second egg hatched, and out of it came Tsiuperai, the spirit of Japvo, and he was not afraid of the light, but stood straight up, and that is why Japvo is higher than Mahadeo. Seeing no one else he cried:
text: "I am first! I am foremost!"
text: Mahadeo heard this and immediately came out again, saying: "No! I was first, but the light was so bright I was frightened and hid; and I am the first and foremost!" With that they fell to arguing, and presently five more spirits hatched out. They said among themselves: "Where is our mother? If she is not here she must have left us something." Now their eyes were not properly open and they could only see dimly, so they felt about and found the plantain. Then they searched again and found the dao and cut the bunch of fruit from the plantain with it. Katsingpeo took the fruit and said: "Now I will give one to each." He handed them out, and then said; "Now have you all got one?" All, one after another, said "No" for the huluk, seeing that they were almost blind, had put out his hand each time and taken the fruit.
text: "Arre!" said Katsingpeo. "I have given it out, but I cannot see properly. Each of you hold out a hand, and he whose hand I catch must call out and say who he is."
text: They did as he said, and the first hand he found he caught hold of firmly, and called out: "whose is this?" They all answered: "not mine." Now it was the huluk's hand. "Very well," said Katsingpeo. "Since it is none of ours, I will cut it," and he slashed with the dao, and the blood spurted up into his eyes and all at once he could see clearly. Then they all put the blood on their eyes and they all saw, and when they looked around, there was the eighth egg unhatched.
text: "It must be addled," they said. "If it were good it would have hatched by now," and they pushed it down the bank and into the water.
text: "Now we will go and look for our mother," they said, and they all changed themselves into crows and flew away.
text: Presently they saw the house, and Katsingpeo said: "That must be our mother's house." They flew down and perched on a tree close by. Their mother looked out and counted them. "Those cannot be my children," she said. "For I laid eight eggs."
text: The seven spirits looked at her, and the eldest said: "that must be our mother. Let us all call out 'mother' to her."
text: "No, no!" said the younger ones. "If we call out 'mother' and she is not our mother, we should feel great shame." They sat there a long, long time arguing about it and then the eldest said: "Whatever you do or don't do, I am going to call out 'mother'." He called out, and their mother answered: "You cannot be my children, for I laid eight eggs, and there are only seven of you."
text: "There were eight eggs," they said. "But we waited a long while and the last one never hatched, so we threw it into the water." At this their mother lamented, and cried: "Alas, my youngest child! All of you are nothing to him; he would have been the strongest and cleverest of all." Then she asked them who was the eldest.
text: "I hatched the first," said Katsingpeo.
text: "No, I did!" said Tsiuperai, and the two of them began quarrelling.
text: "I will show you who is the eldest," said their mother. "I will go up into the sky, and there squeeze out the milk from my breasts; and it will fall first into the mouth of him who is the eldest."
text: Then she went up out of sight into the sky and the seven spirits sat waiting with their mouths open. Her milk fell first to Katsingpeo, then to Tsiuperai, and then to all the others in order as they hatched.
text: As for the egg which went into the water, it hatched out, and out of it came the python.
text: F.C.