The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

manuscript - Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf, Naga diary three

caption: elephant training
medium: diaries
location: Dimapur
date: 4.1.1937
person: Furer-Haimendorf
date: 28.11.1936-11.2.1937
note: translated from german by Dr Ruth Barnes
person: School of Oriental and African Studies Library, London
text: Hardly a mile away from the bungalow is the big camp where the elephants caught in the valleys of the western slopes of the Naga Hills are delivered. Probably already about one hundred are brought together and they are being trained with the help of an even larger number of tame elephants. One can observe them here in all phases of taming. Some are still standing chained between two trees, front and back legs each tied closely together, and pulled so far to the front or back that the animal cannot stand up in a normal posture. However it can lie down if the whole situation becomes too uncomfortable. A huge pile of grass lies in front of each of these chained elephants and often one sees a mahout sitting in front of one talking to the animal in a monotonous manner. The next stage seems to be that a mahout climbs onto the animal's back while two tame elephants guard the prisoner on both sides. Then gradually the chains are loosened, first at the back legs, then eventually in front as well. Tied to a tame elephant with strong ropes, the new elephant (144) is then slowly led around the camp and across the large open space at the bank of the river.
text: A mahout is continuously singing some strings of words all the time in a monotonous and soothing manner. Of the words I understand "usti", "busti", "babu", apparently they have no particular meaning but are supposed to calm down the elephant. One man walks ahead leading the elephant on a rope and another mahout follows on a big tame animal which is tied with ropes to the one to be tamed. With very young animals one also may see only the mahout and a man each in front and behind. It is a fantastic picture to see all these primordial monsters tied up and slowly moving to and fro. Some are being led to the water and are taking a bath there. The taming is supposed to be a quick affair. It only lasts a few days for a very young animal while even a fully grown elephant is supposed to be tame in three weeks. Very old or obviously dangerous animals are let free again immediately after the capture.