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-six. Recruiting
caption: oath taken
medium: books
person: Tseva/ of Hangrum
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: They came back again next day with a fresh selection. One or two of the old ones were, it is true, still there, but the more noticeably damaged had been replaced. There was, too, a new tone apparent in this consignment. They were more or less volunteers and they had not the resignation of the other crew. They were apprehensive, certainly, but they were going to take measures to protect themselves. I could tell by the way Namkia wrapped himself in his scarlet blanket and stood aloof that he disapproved of those measures 'in toto.' The old headman was in such agitation about it (he must have had a bad quarter of an hour with Namkia) that he couldn't, for stuttering, make me understand what it was they wanted. I had to call Namkia into it, and, disgustedly, he explained. They were asking me to take an oath on all I had said, to swear formally on my life that in no circumstances would they be sent away.
text: " Sahibs," said Namkia sharply, " don't take oaths. A Sahib's word is enough. If a man is a liar, then he isn't a Sahib. An oath - tcha ! - the idea ! "
text: " I don't mind," I said. " What I've said is true."
text: Namkia conveyed this to the headmen and recruits and then dissociated himself from the proceedings entirely, leaning up against a veranda-post and looking distantly on.
text: Immediately they heard that I agreed, a tall, fair man - his name was Tseva - who had the Caucasian face and warm skin, like a sun-tanned European, which one sometimes sees in the higher villages, whipped an egg out from under his (192) cloth and handed it to me. Namkia came out of his detachment sufficiently to tell me what to do. I should have to repeat the words of the oath, calling on earth and sky to witness that what I said was true, and offering my life as forfeit if I lied. The egg would then be flung down and broken.
text: Now among most Nagas, and particularly the Zemi, an oath is an exceedingly weighty thing; so much so that it is avoided as much as possible in village-court cases. The death of the forsworn is so certain, so inevitable, that if one of the parties to a dispute takes an oath he wins the case outright - there is no further argument. So, whatever Namkia might think, an oath was clinching proof of our honesty. I had to step out on to the gravel path (one must swear the oath outdoors, in the presence of earth and sun), and there I took the egg from Tseva and repeated the formula. Then, as I am not accustomed to throwing eggs and this was an important matter, I gave the egg to Tseva to fling away.
text: He did me proud. He took two strides and dashed it on the ground. It hit a knob of rock and burst like a hand-grenade. Shell, yolk, shot into space like bullets. Trotting anxiously, the party piled down the steps to the lower level and started looking for traces. They found them anywhere in a twenty-yard radius - outside the kitchen, on the old gravestones, on the gravel - tiny atoms, shattered, disintegrated.
text: They came back looking respectful. There could be no doubt, they said, from the egg's complete dispersal, that what I said was utterly, wholly true.
text: They went off back to the village.
text: " Huh ! " said Namkia.