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-four. Famine
caption: famine concealed from authorities through fear of debt
medium: books
location: Asalu
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: It was all as tragic as misunderstanding as one could find. A generation before, in another scarcity, a Haflong clerk who was gifted more with dramatic than common sense had come out with bulging grain-bags, opened them wide, and told the hungry villagers to help themselves. Quite a number (175) did; but only years later did they learn what the clerk, at the time, had omitted to tell them; that the grain was a long-term loan, to be repaid. Brothers, descendants, heirs of dead-and-gone men, youths who had never even tasted the borrowed rice, found themselves liable for its repayment. In the end, the headmen had to resolve the hopeless tangle by a house-to-house levy throughout the village. Not unnaturally, the Zemi took the whole wretched mistake for calculated cunning. They swore that never again would they accept help so mean, and allow their distress to be exploited for usury.
text: Now here were the fruits of that twenty-year-old stupidity. When, the August before, a plague of grasshoppers ate up the flowering rice, Impoi and Asalu had lost most of their crop. Whether through their concealment or through the negligence of the man sent out to inquire, nothing of this appeared on the Haflong records. Both villages had launched out unsupported on six months' scarcity. There were no grain reserves; it was years since they had had any. Now an epidemic had laid out the able-bodied men, on whose daily earnings everything depended, and there was nothing left. The people were starving. Everyone who could stand, grandmothers, even, was out searching the woods for roots and edible leaves.