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: refusal to take rice even when starving
medium: books
person: MiroteungPerry
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: The crust of Zemi secrecy so rarely cracked that when it did, what emerged was startling. One moment all was peace and silence in the Barail, and the next a shocked Perry, still new to the district, was faced with a full-grown famine sprung out of the ground. There wasn't a thing on the books, not a hint from his predecessor - he couldn't believe it. He sent a man out hot-foot to confirm or deny. His report was enough - things happened. As soon as the stuff could be sacked and put on porters, twenty loads of Government free-relief rice were on their way up the road, while Perry himself, with the ample balance, was hurrying up behind. Like the clerk before us, he and I opened the bulging sacks and called on the people to take - and they looked at us long and dumbly, and turned away.
text: Arguing, cajoling, we persuaded the urgent cases to take a little. My Asalu friend Miroteung, whom I had seen a few months back lying laughing on his porch bench, tossing his fat, gurgling, golden-brown baby up in the air, came in fresh from the baby's burial and almost too weak with hunger to stand. He sat against the doorpost and shook his head at all my entreaties - talking exhausted him. He wouldn't touch the rice.
text: " But, Miroteung, you must ! You've been ill, so has your wife - if there's any catch in it, any interest to pay, I'll make up every last anna myself, I swear I will."
text: He nodded at that; but he wouldn't take more than ten pounds. I had to send one of my own men to carry it down for him.
text: When Perry and I met again at Laisong a week later the worst sufferers had been fed and immediate tragedy prevented; but only just. It had been a near thing, the Asalu headmen said; deaths from starvation would have begun that week. Comparing notes, Perry and I were agreed on one thing in heart and soul, and that was that something must be done (177) about the Zemi. We couldn't let this horrible misunderstanding continue. But what were we to do ?
text: Perry was a just and able officer and well liked, and already was as freely accepted by the Zemi as I, indeed as no officer had been for a dozen years; but the trouble was far too deep-rooted for our individual influence to cure. Something much bigger was required. True, confidence might be built up only to be thrown down and destroyed again by the next twist of the political wheel, but that risk had to be taken; things couldn't go on as they were. Perhaps, if we were lucky, we should get the chance, the opening we could use.
text: Perry went back to Haflong, and we stayed on at the camp. Over and above the famine it was a bad Rains. Our nerves were still in rags after Lumding and we snapped and squabbled like bad-tempered children. Then I went down with malaria.