The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

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

caption: Pan cultivation; megalithic remains; architecture and sacrifice in Jaintiapur; comparison of Syntengs with other ethnic groups
medium: tours
person: NripohRynjah/ Mr
ethnicgroup: KonyakKacha NagaAngamiSyntang
location: Jaintiapur Am-Khut Stream Syndai Namsang Kongan Am-Sorai Stream Jowai Am-kumbeh Stream Um-niakaneh R. Am-lubon R. Maput Thluumwi Dimapur Nartiang Phuljar Jaintia Hills
date: 22.10.1925
person: Hutton/ J.H.
date: 7.10.1925-29.10.1925
person: Pitt Rivers Museum Archive, Oxford
refnum: Hutton Ms. Box 2
text: 22nd October
text: To Jaintiapur, about 7 miles. The paved causeway is almost continuous down to the foot of the hills, but being made largely of sandstone, has worn very much worse than the granite or limestone parts higher up. There is a monolithic span across the Am-khut stream (Um-water is replaced locally by Am. Cf. as in parts of the Konyak country in the Naga Hills). All along the path there is flourishing pan cultivation, the pan vines being grown on trees and a great deal more closely and thickly than they are by the Konyak Nagas who cultivate pan the same way. Syndai, like Namsang and Kongan in the Naga Hills depends almost entirely on pan for its existence, and buys rice in the plains, carrying it up to the village. Apparently it gets almost all its rice in this way. The pan-baris are irrigated by bamboo aquaducts bringing water from the nearest stream. This keeps the soil damp and cool enough for the growth, an effect contained by Nagas by cultivating in heavy jungle only, whereas these Syntengs do it in land that has been partially cleared and is much less heavily treed. The bullet-bow in evidence here. From the smallest boys upwards almost every male one meets carried one, even if he has a heavy load as well.
text: The Am-sorai stream, now crossed by a light timber bridge, must once have had a stone one, as in the bed of the stream I noticed several portions of huge blocks that had been squared and slotted for building purposes. In crossing the Am-kumbeh stream one appeared to be on high earth embankment. I got down into the stream to see how the water got through and found a fine megalithic arch spanning the stream with a causeway of similar construction filling in the space on each side between the bridge and the banks. Much of this causeway must at some time or other have been broken down and replaced by ordinary rough stonework probably made by cutting up the fallen or broken blocks. Grass is growing on the top and the tangle of jungle hanging down on each side entirely hides the bridge till you get into the stream. The arch is of the same type as that over the Um-niakaneh, only there appears to have been an attempt to use the key-stone principle, though the key-stone is not exactly in the centre of the arch, but slightly on the skew. A little further on is a tank cut entirely out of solid rock with gutter and drains likewise excavated out of the rock to bring the rain water from the slope above it to keep it full. The tank is 22'11" broad by 29'2" long round the edge and descends inside in three broad steps, the depth in the centre being 6' from the bottom to the level of the outer edge. At the far end from the path and backing on to the hill-side, is an elephant carved in one block with the tank so as to stand in the water and be nearly submerged when the tank is full to the brim. Opposite it is a flight of steps leading from the brim towards the centre of the tank - six steps, about 1' in height each, left when cutting out the tank. Somewhere near here I was told there was a rock carving of the sun and moon and other emblems, but somehow I missed it, as my guides kept saying it was further on until we got to the plains when they admitted that they didn't know where it was and had never seen it. It is certainly there somewhere as several people told me of it in Jowai.
text: The Am-lubon river is crossed by a modern timber bridge resting on the piers of the megalithic one which preceded it. It was obviously a bridge with flat stone slabs like that at Maput called Thluumwi. There are five piers of similar construction to those at Maput, but a great deal higher and of the six monolithic spans, only the two end ones - much the smallest - still remain. The remnants of the others are strewn about the bed of the stream. Just beyond the bridge are a couple of dolmens. For the rest of the path there are only small streams crossed by a single slab or, in two cases, fordable rivers crossed each by an Irish bridge, until the bottom of the hills and the low-lying land of the Jaintiapur pargana is reached, and then there is a ferry.
text: At Jaintiapur itself I noticed many of the houses purely Synteng in construction. Except for some small quasi-megalithic slab bridges, and some fine menhirs and cromlechs of the Khasi type, some of them, as at Nartiang, under the compound wall of the old palace, or temple, enclosure, I saw no megalithic work at Jaintiapur itself, but the remains of a large round stone pillar the top broken and the whole in a semi-recumbant position at the top of the steps of the plinth of what used to be the site of the durbar hall. I did, however, see some light monolithic house- posts made by the present Nripoh, the lineal representative of the ci-devant princes. They were of the same pattern as ordinary wooden house-posts with forked tops to carry the rafts. Everywhere there are ruins of palaces, walls and temples, all built of brick and mostly finally overthrown at the great earth- quake of 1897. The population is still largely Synteng and their houses are many of them made with the typical hog-backed Synteng roof coming very low over the front door which is at one end. The Bengali type is also hog-backed, but has the door at the side. It is said that this hog-backed type is adopted as being less liable to destruction by cyclones and hurricanes. As at Nartiang, the old Jaintia Raj gateways are all covered by a hog-backed roof and are built with a double doorway with a recess on each side between the two. Inside the wall of the old temple or palace compound is a big square plinth with a square "altar" in the centre of it faintly suggesting the so-called pyramidical type. The "altar" which is of stone, used to be protected with a thatched shrine, and was the abiding place of the family goddess. Opposite the stone steps up to the plinth is the old place of sacrifice. Two successive broad flat steps lead up to a circular platform with a spout to carry off the blood facing the steps to the "altar", and a heart-shaped stone protuberance pointing inwards on the opposite edge. Between these the circumference slopes down to a central depression and it is said that there was originally a central drain to the spout and about it a hollow shaped to take the human form. It was here that the human sacrifices were regularly made which ultimately caused the downfall of the Jaintia Raj, though the sacrifice which occasioned it was actually made at Phuljar, some miles off. At one corner of the compound, the two walls met to make a partly circular column in brick. I noticed that it was carved in the pattern of the Dimapur cylindrical monolith with the "enemies' teeth" pattern with the difference that the upper part of the vertical pattern was larger than the lower, and the tie was made in a rope pattern. On the southern wall of the compound were mouldings in relief in a sort of stucco representing horses, an elephant, a lion (or dragon) of the same kind as that on the bridge and likewise prancing in a tree, an elephant being caught and tamed, a winged female being and a giant with a club fighting with what appeared to be a crocodile. The latter might be a version of the St. George and the Dragon legend. These reliefs are much damaged and the Superintendent of Archaeology has ordered them to be protected by a "fillet". The local Public Works Department of Officers doubt what is meant by this. I told them what a fillet was and they replied that what I described was a "cornice". All the same, I know that it is called a "fillet" in some parts of Great Britain. The orientation of the compound and "altar" is arranged so that the "altar", that is the site on which the image of the goddess used to be kept, faces south, and the steps ascend to it from south to north; the place of sacrifice is immediately south of it and east or northeast of that is a well; the main gate now fallen, most of it, is in the middle of the south wall, and there is still a subsidiary gate in the east wall towards the North East corner; in the South West corner is an old dry well into which the bodies of the victims were thrown, but it is now filled up with rubbish and old bricks, the intention having been to obliterate this spot of displeasing associations.
text: The Deputy Commissioner of Sylhet was at Jaintiapur before me, and in the afternoon the Nripoh came to call on him. The old man was clearly upset about something and applied to have the protected monument returned to his custody, but consented to withdraw his claim if Government would agree to certain conditions. Some of these are certainly not in the interests of the protected monument, but it would be better to agree to them rather than let the monument go back to the Nripoh, in whose hands it will rapidly perish.
text: The present Nripoh's heir, if he had one, would be his sister's son, in accordance with Synteng custom, but he has none and states that he has no heir, so presumably his mother and grandmother etc. had no sisters either, or, if they had, they left no descendants by their daughters. I wonder if there are any descendants of the Nartiang branch of the family, but presumably not, as the two branches seem to have been both represented by the Jaintia branch since they came in contact with the British. The Nripoh showed us round various parts of ancient and dilapidated fragments of brick buildings, but there was little interest. Such decorations as there still remained were in the form of floral panels, Muhammadan in style and comparatively recent in date.
text: I noticed in Jaintiapur dogs with their ears and tail cut in the Naga style. Generally speaking my impression of the Syntengs of the Jaintia Hills is that they resemble the Manipuris more nearly than other peoples of Assam that I know. Their features remind me of them, but most of all their fondness for marketing. Like Manipur, the place is strewn with hats, the smallest villages apparently having some sort of market-place, and as in Manipur, it is the women who do the trading and, apparently, most of the other work. Mr. Rynjah, the Khasi Subdivisional Officer of Jowai, who knows something of the Naga Hills, said that he observed some likeness between the Khasis and Syntengs to the Kacha Naga, an observation the more interesting in that the Kacha Nagas, unlike the Angami, put up their stones not in the form of two upright stones, but as one upright and one in dolmen form like the Khasis and Syntengs, as with whom the upright represents the male and the recumbent the female. The speech of the Syntengs, however, reminds me of the staccato language of Konyak Nagas in delivery and in the general sound of it.