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: analysis of Konyak songs and tales
medium: books
ethnicgroup: Konyak
person: Furer-Haimendorf
date: 6.1936-6.1937
text: In this song we find a trait typical of most Konyak poetry: tales are not described but only alluded to. The song is not designed to inform the listeners, but to recall certain facts, well known to all, and thus to create a particular atmosphere, here one of pride in the greatness of the ancestors and morung-founders. To those unfamiliar with the ancient traditions such a song is necessarily ununderstandable, while to the Konyak it is pregnant with meaning. The first two lines refer to the mythical origin of the Konyak tribe, whose ancestors were born of the giant bird Yong-wem-ou-niu, while the next two lines are an invocation for the prosperity of the morung boys and the harmony of their community life. The fifth and sixth lines again lead us into the realm of legend and recall in a minimum of words the following story.
text: "In the old times man and tiger were friends and kinsmen. The man had one field and the tiger another. Once wild pigs (193) damaged the tiger's crops and so the two chased and killed one of the marauders. When they had cut up the pig, the man began cooking the meat, but while he cooked the pork for himself, he prepared a dish of bitter roots for the tiger. The tiger wondered at the taste and when the man turned to blow his nose he took a piece of the man's food and found it very tasty. In anger he turned on the man: 'Why do you eat good meat when you give me only horrible bitter food!' he said. At his friend's anger, the man ran away and when the tiger chased him he sought refuge in a hole in the ground. Only the end of his cane-belt remained sticking out. So the tiger pulled at the belt; but the belt was very long and unwound as the tiger pulled; at last the tiger got tired and went away."
text: In a Pardhan song of Middle India this story might easily be elaborated into a hundred verses, but the Konyaks, bent on arousing emotional associations rather than on amusing an audience, are content to indicate the mythical background in exactly six words.
text: The second part of the song is devoted to the praise of the descendants of Yana and Shayong, the ancestors of the two most important clans of the Oukheang morung, which still bear the names Yana-hu and Shayong-hu. They are likened to stars and sun, and to the high trees of the virgin forest, and their coming from a certain place near the confluence of two rivers, which lies on the traditional migration route of the Wakching people -- a route along which also the path of the Dead is believed to run -- is described as accompanied by lightning and thunder, while their steps resounded like the ringing of gongs. The last lines emphasize the greatness of the clans which filled the whole village.