The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

manuscript notes made by W.G. Archer between 1946 & 1948, and miscellaneous papers and letters

caption: death rituals and attitudes
medium: notes
keywords: Pwang-lam
person: Satang CholoHutton
ethnicgroup: Chang
location: Tuensang
person: Archer/ W.G.
date: 1946-1948
refnum: 16:43
seealso: Hutton, 'Diaries' p. 50
text: Chang.
text: On day of the return from the raid, the striker must drink modhu from a mithan horn - the soul haunts the place where the body dies - it does not accompany the head - each man has 2 souls - at death his first soul goes to the sky - his second lingers with the body - the body is buried until the Harvest Festival - a little platform is erected - cloths hung up - rice beer offered each day (in the house) - at the Harvest Festival - dug up - the head taken to the place of the skulls - the other bones left in the grave - after that the second soul joins the first - Bahadurs are put in open coffins with hornbill heads carved - and put on high platforms in sheds (not buried) - only Bahadurs and irrespective of clans - the second soul follows the first after the skull has been deposited in the place of the skulls. 'If a man's head is cut, his second soul flies frantically about. It cries like a wild goose. it has no rest. It can stay nowhere. It can go nowhere. It cannot join its ancestors. But when its birthday arrives, it then becomes nothing and goes to its end'. When a man's head is taken, his family and clan gather - they make a dummy head from a gourd - they give it eyes, mouth, nose, ears, then they sew the dummy head onto the trunk - and bury the corpse - (no disinterment - no offerings of rice-beer - 'the dead man has gone. His soul is not in the house'.) If the head is not given, the dead ancestors will not be able to know or recognise the first soul - when it joins them - (ie. the first soul goes to the sky and joins the ancestors irrespective of its means of death) therefore a dummy head is given.
text: Dec. - on the Pwang-lam - Harvest Festival - all the heads are taken from the head-tree and placed in the morung - [hands and feet are allowed to fall off and are not taken to the drum house] - the removal is by the 'old man of the clan' - a pig killed and eaten. [Number of morungs is decided by convenience - each morung about 30-40 houses - more would be too big a crowd]. The wooden heads are substitutes for heads lost or destroyed. If a bahadur man is killed the skull is given horns - mithan or buffalo - no specially sacrificed to the skull - any old horns in the house are used.
text: Genna to touch any of the old skulls in the drum-house between time when dhan has shrubed and harvest - if so, wind and storms will blast the crop - not genna to take a head while crops are standing but genna to soil village land by bringing the head through it - if a head is taken, therefore fines are exacted and pigs sacrificed - in practice therefore almost a close season.
text: If an enemy was captured he was taken to the skull house and tied up there - if his village ransomed him he was released - otherwise his captor keeps him as a slave. The log-drum is usually open at both ends - with a long thin neck and sometimes 2 hornbills SKETCH
text: - out in the village street are little children's drums 'for teaching the youth'.
text: Re origin of head taking - the ant and the caterpillar myth. Head taking only for getting warrior's status - nothing else - no gennas offered if it is stopped - genna to kill anyone not an enemy - 'blood will come from the mouth and you will die'.
text: Death Ritual.
text: A Bahadur has a grave house built containing all his insignia and provided with all the requisites for life after death - in addition a row of tall wooden 'blade-like' posts is erected as a tally of all the mithan he has killed. Satang Cholo who died in 1946 had 23 - the posts represent 'hornbill heads'
text: SKETCH