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: law of homicide among Sangtam Nagas
medium: notes
ethnicgroup: SangtamChangYimchungrAoLhotaSema
location: Chimongre
date: 3.11.1947
person: Archer/ W.G.
date: 1946-1948
refnum: 6:3
text: The law of homicide among the Sangtam Nagas.
text: On 3rd November 1947, two boys from the Sangtam village of Chimongre were cutting fuel in the forest. Suddenly the dao of one of them left its haft and, striking the other on the head, it killed him immediately. This completely accidental murder at once brought into play a whole code of tribal law. According to Sangtam practice, a killer however unwitting is fully responsible for his deed. If his clan is inferior to that of the victim, he must either join the victim's family or provide a boy in his stead. If he has no son to offer and is himself a grown man, he must either pay a large fine or surrender all his lands and movables. If his clan is superior to that of the victim, he can close the incident by paying a fine. The results where the clan relationship involves the cession of a 'substitute son', the boy suffers a complete change of family. He enters the house of the victim's father. He acknowledges the latter as his new 'father', and disowns his true sire. He retains his clan name but in all respects it is as if he has been fully adopted. His new father must now arrange his marriage and the murderer ranks as a valid heir on a parity with all his other sons. Even if his natural father should die with no heirs, he is now disbarred from inheriting for every tie with his former family has now been snapped. In the case from Chimongre, the unwitting slayer was of a lower clan than that of the deceased and was therefore liable to immediate 'adoption' by the family of the dead boy. The family was not content, however, with a single substitute, but claimed two boys in place of the dead one. This was flatly contrary to Sangtam law, and I understand that the case was subsequently settled by the 'murderer' joining the victim's house.
text: I am told that exactly or similar law governs the Chang Nagas and Yimchungr Nagas but that other customs prevail among the Ao, Lhota and Sema Nagas.