The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

manuscript - Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf, Naga diary four

caption: burials - decorated skulls and after life
medium: diaries
person: Bisho
ethnicgroup: Konyak
location: Namsang
date: 20.3.1937
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: The gaonbura of the Aiabang is readily prepared to show me such a head in his own house. A white cloth is spread over a plaited frame not unlike a round stool without a back and on it rests a child's skull surrounded by several ornaments as worn by boys. There even are two orange coloured blossoms on both sides of the skull. The gaonbura who set it spontaneously into the centre of the room so that I might see it better does not at all object to carrying it onto the verandah to allow for a photograph to be taken in the sunlight
text: At every mealtime something is put into a plaited bowl in front of it for the dead one. The concept that it is the soul which goes on living is clearly expressed. The gaonbura says "The body decays and disappears, the soul travels to Yimbi. We give offerings and food to the soul. Only the soul can partake of it. It is for the soul that we slaughter an animal". A cow or sometimes only a pig is killed for the final burial. (211) All clan members of the deceased person come to his house and mourn and cry. Then they accompany the skull in a procession to the burial place of his clan where it is put into a stone box or a pot according to the wishes of the family.
text: At the burial the clan eldest addresses the deceased as follows: "We gave you all the offerings. Do not take with you father and mother, older and younger brother, leave them here. Do not turn around. Yungyan has decided that we must part". (See notebook 7 p. 131). Yungyan is a spirit who lives in the earth and is ill inclined towards humans, causing their death. Akongdedangba on the other hand is the guardian of the land of the dead, Yimbi, sometimes also called "father of the dead".
text: According to one however unique comment of Bisho, an old shaman, this world is separated from Yimbi by a ravine with water at the bottom. Those who have died a natural death walk across the ravine on a bridge. Akongdedangba stands on the other side and asks the dead about their origin in the usual way (212) and he receives gifts of food from them and a chunga with rice beer shaped in a particular way (see p. 192). Underneath a platform he keeps a big fire burning and if a dead person does not bring him any gifts he takes him and puts him on the platform. It is not clear what happens next to the unfortunate one and I think it is quite possible that the idea goes back to the impact of the mission which has no converts in Namsang but has been in the neighbourhood for quite some time. Those who die a bad death do not get as far as Akongdedangba but before they step onto the bridge they fall into a ravine and land in the water at the bottom. There they perish.
text: Small frames with gifts for the dead are put up both in and outside the village. The girls of the clan with which the deceased could have married decorate these frames with flowers. No leaves are spread.