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 twenty. The Land and the People
caption: cycle-migration and land rights
medium: books
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: Because of their intensely difficult country, the Barail Zemi were forced to develop cycle-migration. Each stretch of jhum-land was by itself too small to maintain a village indefinitely, since, to feed large settlements, it must be cropped at intervals too short to allow complete regeneration. As the Zemi lived then (and for most of their history) in a state of war, the community dared not subdivide and send a colony out to each parcel of land. When in the course of years, therefore, a stretch became exhausted, they left it, village and (150) all, and cultivated a second and distant tract while the first recovered.
text: What of the Zemi 'kadepeo' system, on which the village polity was based ? The village sites they left, and the land attached, were not abandoned. The ancient site-land, the ancestral graves, the hallowed 'hazoa,' the rights and powers of 'kadepeo' and " citizens " - that is, the descendants of the original colonists of the site, men who were " of " it, who had rights in its site-land - were, and are, most potent influences in Zemi life. To give them up was unthinkable. When the land at the first site had recovered enough and the second was becoming exhausted, the movement was reversed and the community returned. Some of the larger settlements, such as Hangrum, exhausted their patches of land so rapidly that they had to make three, four or even five removes before their first site was ripe for re-occupation, but however many sites a community possessed, each had its own 'kadepeo',the first founder's descendant, and its own "citizens", heirs of the colonists, and, as one site was left and another resettled, the proper 'kadepeo' and " citizens " took up their duties- laid down by their ancestors, perhaps half a century before. In the same way, each time a site was left, its " citizens " prepared it for their descendants' re-occupation. The 'hazoa' was marked by a standing stone, boundaries were traced and landmarks memorized; individual householders sometimes buried property by their hearths to identify the house-site for future generations. Lifetimes might pass, it was true, before the group returned to the place, but what was that in the rhythm of tribal life ?
text: For more than two hundred years the cycle continued, a a slow progression round acknowledged sites - we may disregard the mergings, the abortive colonies, which here and there disturbed the regular pattern. So slow a cycle was it, measured in generations rather than years, that a Zemi would have had difficulty in defining it. Enough that when harvests declined, when a village decayed, when the land of a site (151) was old and full of graves, it was time to move to another elsewhere.