The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

typescript - J.H. Hutton's tour diary in the Naga Hills

caption: Poisoning and witchcraft; women
medium: tours
keywords: thlen cult
person: RolhuleKohotoNilhuzu
ethnicgroup: SemaAngami <EasternKhasis
location: Chipoketami Phek (Phekrokejuma)
date: 6.9.1925
person: Hutton/ J.H.
date: 2.9.1925-15.9.1925
person: Pitt Rivers Museum Archive, Oxford
refnum: Hutton Ms. Box 2
text: 6th September
text: Halted Chipoketami. One of the cases I had to deal with was one of the much-too-frequent-in-this-area poisoning cases. The village clearly believed the women - a handsome wench - to be guilty, but as the poison had been applied by the accidental splashing of water over a man when both were washing in a stream, I put her on oath and dismissed it. The water that touched the victim had scalded his face and made his left eye run with tears and he had not been well since. He looked like a bad malaria case.
text: It was to be noted, however, that the only compurgators the accused could produce were 2 women relatives and their, and her, children. No grown man would give his life, and a Sema dobashi with more intelligence than most explained to me in private that there is a clan, or are clans, among the Eastern Angamis who cannot get rich unless they poison people and take their lives just as (the illustration is his not mine) the Khasis kill people for the Thlen. This, of course, makes the existence of a class of poisoners here very much more probably a reality than I have hitherto been willing to believe, as it supplies a logical and comprehensible motive. If by poisoning a man you can add his life, his soul, his mana, his aren, or whatever you please to call it, to your own, then obviously people will be found to do it. I have always scorned the idea of poisoning as a system in the Eastern Angami country, because the methods reported are nearly always magical rather than chemical, but it came out quite definitely in Rolhule's case in 1923 that chemical methods (in that case croton seed) are known to certain Eastern Angami women, and used by them. Poisoning and witchcraft have always been associated, and the two go hand in hand. It is noticeable that the practitioners are always said to be women, and it suggests that the practice - in so far as it may exist - is a survival of some older cult and race of which the males were killed or driven out, just as in mediaeval Europe witchcraft was a genuine survival of a pre-Christian religious cult. If Kohoto is right in seeing a paralled case to the Thlen cult, it may be a Mon-khmer survival. The only person I ever heard of in the Khasia hills as definitely given to Thlen worship was a woman, and I believe I have heard or read elsewhere that the principal worshipper of any Thlen must be the female head of the family.
text: People at Chipoketami complained of the S.A.S. at Phekrokejuma, who, they say, refuses to keep as in-patients persons with bad sores. They showed me two cases of people with horrible sores which they said Nilhuzu had refused to keep and had sent back to their villages.