The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

book : Return to the Naked Nagas (1939;1976)

caption: Chapter Twenty-one. Head-Hunting Rites
caption: girls chewing leaves as they dance
medium: books
ethnicgroup: Konyak
location: Longkhai
person: Furer-Haimendorf
date: 6.1936-6.1937
text: The girls have prepared small parcels of pan leaves to chew, and they press them into the hands of their friends as they dance I too find a parcel being pressed into my hand, and looking round I find that the principal wife of Mauwang has shown me a sign of favour by offering me betel. Whether for good or evil, I must put it into my mouth. It has a sharp, aromatic taste, not altogether unpleasant, reminding me faintly of pine needles, but the astonishing thing is how strongly it stimulates the flow of saliva In a few minutes I must follow the example of the other dancers, spitting again and again.
text: Is it the betel which holds in abeyance the tiredness and aching of arms and knees, or is it the suggested strength and endurance of the rhythm? Although the words are strange, I do my best to join in the melody of the song that swings the dance and conjures up visions of fights and heroes. Voices carry far into the night, and the rhythm that they bear resounds in the darkness, gripping the singers and blending them one and all, till they finally merge in the unity of the dance. This rhythm is more than art, it is the voice of man's primeval instinct, the revelation of the all-embracing rhythm of growth and decay, of love, battle, and death. The pallid skulls watching the dance from the front of the morung are also symbols of this harmonious alternation of death and life, life and death; brought home in triumph from countless raids, they are in death magically linked with the happiness and prosperity of the village.
text: Is it only man who seems suddenly possessed by this all-over-powering rhythm? Are not the white clouds, sweeping over the moon's face before a mighty wind, is not this play of light and shade in the heavens, a part of this same rhythm? Song and dance have become one, and they are one, too, with the rustle of the dark tops of the palms, the wild flaming fire, and the distant (178) . outlines of the mountain peaks.
text: The ranks of the dancers break at last; brandishing their dao and uttering shrill war-cries, they rush round the place, ending with a long-drawn howl. I am exhausted and suddenly so dizzy that I have to lean against a house-post. Now that the tension is past, I look at my watch. We have danced more than two hours without stopping. I am suddenly glad that my bed is not so very far away.