The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

typescript 'Journey to Nagaland', by Mildred Archer. An account of six months spent in the Naga Hills in 1947

caption: visit to a feast of merit at Ungma
caption: men's dance
medium: diaries
location: Ungma
date: 9.10.1947
person: Archer/ Mildred
date: 9.7.1947-4.12.1947
text: The men danced behind the women, in an outer ring, adding their bass to the harsh resonance of the women's voices. It sounded like plain song in a cathedral as the rich song rose and fell. The men were resplendent in their war dress; hornbill feathers springing from bear-skin circlets, red and yellow gauntlets, tapering conch-shell beads, boars' tushes, cowrie aprons and in the ears great wads of white cotton wool. As they circled round the crouching mithan, the men brandished their spears, while the women shook red-plumed daos and waved fans of fresh green leaves in a rising and falling rhythm.
text: Suddenly a young buck leapt forward and with whooping cries that rose above the monotonous chant, cut and thrust at the mithan in stylised pantomine. As he leapt and whirled, the chorus too whooped and yodelled with faint memories of old war cries and then the voices fell back to the slow dull chant.
text: A jostling crowd pressed round the ring; small girls dressed like their mothers solemnly balanced their cherry chaplets and feathered ear tufts, while small boys swaggered in and out with scarlet fringed baldricks and jangling conch (102) shell beads. Behind the young, squatted the elders, puffing at their pipes, huddled in their indigo and deep red wraps.
text: For all it was a glorious break in the hard year's work, a brilliant spectacle, and for two clans the promise of rich meals to come. For the dancers it meant the flaunting of status, for every detail, whether cloth, bells or hornbill feathers, proclaimed the exact status of each man or woman. For the Ao, life is no humdrum aimless routine, but a movement in a social scale through the sacrifice of cock, pig and mithan. In the end, the sacrificer of many mithan, can proudly stand with feathers and banded cloak in front of his carved house, the cynosure of village eyes.