The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

manuscript - Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf, Naga diary four

caption: religious ceremonial in evening
medium: diaries
ethnicgroup: Konyak
location: Longkhai
date: 24.2.1937
person: Furer-Haimendorf
date: 12.2.1937-31.3.1937
note: translated from german by Dr Ruth Barnes
person: School of Oriental and African Studies Library, London
text: When the evening comes the dancers of all three morungs come together and with the older men they form a wide circle on the platform which they encompass all the way along the edge, standing closely together. A solemn silence endures and the Yemba steps into the centre of the platform. He sets a reed stool in front of himself on which is placed a small pile of cooked white rice on some leaves. He now takes from this rice and throws it in all directions. Simultaneously he says with solemn emphasis "Give us rice, may it come from everywhere, give that we may have, oh Yabu". These words are directed at Hayang and for the first time among the Nagas I had the feeling of participating in a religious ceremony. The men in the circle repeatedly emphasised his words with a long "Ha!" cry. (75) Then an older man from the Ang clan started the alternating chant which calls for a victory of Longkhai over all neighbouring Angs. (See p. 66).
text: Then yesterday's ceremony at the bamboo pole is repeated. (See p. 66). As today the ceremony was not interrupted by the rain and as it was not quite dark, I could observe it better this time. Not only the Yemba and the older men of the Ang clan stand around the pole but also some younger Ang men. The Ang himself also is initially among them but then he leaves his circle and steps over to the spectators. The men around the pole now again call to Hayang for a rich harvest, a good hunt and fortune in war.
text: At first this prayer has the form of an alternating chant, every sentence of the men at the centre is answered by the group which stands around them. These are impressive moments and I'm very moved by this unique rite with which these people ask for their god's blessing for their fields. The alternating chant reminds me of some chants of the Catholic and Eastern liturgies, and unavoidably my thoughts turn to celebration around our Easter. Here as there, there is the atmosphere of Spring in the air. (76) Here as there the beginning of a new year is celebrated as for us too the real beginning of the year is at Easter time. This comparison to Easter is not a rational construction after the fact. I felt it before I turned it into words and this ceremony was probably the first in Nagaland which actually moved me.
text: When the alternate chanting is finished the Ang men step closer together and they quietly say several words with their heads bent down, which are completely drowned out and are supposed to be by the now irregular and noisier and noisier shouts of the Ben youth who are milling about. I'm not quite sure that these are actually the words I was given yesterday. Possibly I was only told those of the chant but these too can hardly concern anything other than a prayer for a good harvest.