The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

book - 'Naga Path', by Ursula Graham Bower, published John Murray 1950

caption: Chapter seventeen. Fire, Fire!
caption: trying to make a firebelt nearly causes camp to burn down
medium: books
location: Laisong
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: The obvious course, on that, was to cut a firebelt. The trouble was the cliff. One could only get down to cut for thirty yards, and after this, though a boy could clamber down, (131) and the whole of the slope was covered in grass and scrub, inflammable as they come, the ground was too steep for a man to stand and work. When the men had cut the scrub by hand as far as they could, we held a consultation. It was decided we'd have to burn off the cliff. So operations were suspended till sundown, when the wind was likely to drop, and when the men of the village would be there; and we started to carry water and prepare wet sacks.
text: Sunset found us ready. Some twenty men of the village had come to help. Two were perched on top of the bungalow ridge, armed with wet sacks and ready to beat out sparks; two or three more were astride the men's lines. The main body was massed with fire-brooms in front. On the right flank, towards the village, Zhekhuingba the caretaker and his two sons presided over the water - several buckets, some bamboo tubes, and a tin bath. The wind had dropped, dusk was falling, and all was still. Namkia looked at me. I nodded. Old Hozekiemba went running off to fire the foot of the hill.
text: For a disappointingly long time, several minutes, in fact, nothing happened. Then the air in front of us began to quiver. Whorls and vortices appeared. The hills beyond, still in the afterglow, dissolved in a thin film of coppery smoke. Specks of ash and dry leaf came up, dancing. There was a dull murmur, the coppery smoke increased.
text: " It's coming," said Namkia.
text: And by gosh, it did.
text: We had not reckoned on the cliff, a good hundred feet of it, creating its own draught. With a whooflike an explosion, a roar like the Day of Judgement, a sheet of flame rushed boiling in front of us into the evening sky. I saw the men in the firebelt running for safety, little black specks against the scarlet wall. Then Namkia grabbed my arm and I turned to face the bungalow. The whole was bathed, was bright with a fiery glow; snowstorms of sparks were falling on the bone-dry thatch; the men on the ridge were flailing away (132) like maniacs; and as I looked up, I saw the tip of the great flame, wind-blown, curving directly above us and twenty feet over our heads.