The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

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

caption: Chapter Twenty-two. Love and Poetry
caption: knowledge of very difficult language superficial
medium: books
ethnicgroup: Konyak
person: Furer-Haimendorf
date: 6.1936-6.1937
text: Though I recorded the outline of a grammar and a vocabulary of the dialect spoken in Wakching as well as a great number of texts, my knowledge of the language remained very superficial and throughout my work I conversed in Naga-Assamese, the linguafranca of the Naga Hills. It was also in this language that the texts of songs were translated to me, and I have little doubt that the translations are no more satisfactory than would be, say, a translation of Li-ta-po's poems through the medium of pidgin English. In many cases it was impossible to ascertain the exact meaning of a word or a phrase, and this was not only due to the limitations of Naga-Assamese, but also to the fact that the poetical language of the Konyaks is very different from the idiom in daily use. And just as the spoken language varies from village to village so greatly that within a radius of ten miles one may find three distinct dialects, so too differ the poetical idioms not only of villages, but even of individual morung. Thus many songs are fully understandable only to a limited circle and even the singers can often not explain the meaning of each word. "This is the way we sing," they say, "but in speaking we never use these words, and we cannot tell exactly what they mean."