The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

letter from Henry Balfour to J.H. Hutton

caption: bull-roarers; Hutton's theory of the origin of head-taking; modhu cup - "enemies teeth"; Chang chest tattoo; wooden soul figures; objects from Capt. Shakespear
medium: letters
person: Hutton/ J.H.Shakespear/ Col. L.W.
person: Balfour/ Henry
date: 30.5.1923
person: Pitt Rivers Museum Archive, Oxford
refnum: Hutton Ms. Box 369-70
text: Pitt Rivers Museum,
text: Oxford
text: 30/5/1923
text: My dear Hutton,
text: I had to let a mail or two slip by, as I have not had a moment to myself free from interruptions and have been overwhelmed with work of all sorts. I was awfully glad to hear of the transfrontier tour, which in spite of rain and other drawbacks must have been most interesting. I was wondering if over the frontier you might find that the bull-roarer retained still a ceremonial or magical use. I am much intrigued by your finding it in Khonoma - even though as a toy. Do you know if the children are prevented from sounding it at special times e.g. before harvest is reaped etc. Your theory of origin of head taking is distinctly ingenious and seems plausible. I don't think it has been suggested before in this form. The head, I take it, was at first just a 'voucher' for the disembodied spirit, becoming a real trophy at a later stage. What about the divided heads which supply trophies for several individuals. The spirit of the late owner would be controlled for rebirth by a number of people, presumably, and unless divisible itself might be puzzled as to which person's offspring to enter. For finding the origin of head-hunting close comparative study is needed and it would be well to look up the associated beliefs etc. in Borneo, New Guinea, Melanesia, Ecuador etc. to see what points exist in common. It would be a very good line to follow up when you can get at plenty of literature. I am amused at H.E.'s having cut out your remarks on River's views arrent head-hunting. He had much better recognise the undoubted facts and leave the 'old women' to wallow in their ruts of ignorance. Anyway I have let myself go a bit on the subject in my address to the Folk Lore Soc. I sent copies to the Governors of Bengal and Bombay whom I know personally, but perhaps I had better not send to H.E. of Assam if it puts the wind up on him. Seligmann writes to me that he thinks our chief administrators of native affairs ought to be made to "wear copies next to their skin". But I did not go nearly far enough. It is a gospel which wants gingering up if it is to serve as a mustard plaster for Governors of provinces, and wants more sting.
text: I don't think that your negative of the Tangkhul head with (?) bullroarers is here. I have set Carline on to see if it is in your series here. If you have it in Kohima I would awfully like a print, as I am about convinced that the bullroarer derivatives are used for decoration in morungs and brought a number back which I can't help feeling are really bull-roarers in origin, though no longer used as such.
text: I am much interested in the modhu cup theory of the 'enemies teeth' and remember seeing the leaf cup tied round genna stones in the way you describe. There should be some more or less reliable representations still to be found, either on wood or stone, showing the cup designs before they became symmetrical patterns.
text: The Chang chest tattoo as a buffalo head derivative is very interesting. It had not even occurred to me as I found nothing to suggest it, but you transfrontier series is very telling. The odd thing is that it is the ears and not the horns which survive and develop into the design, whereas on the cis-frontier side the horns take charge and persist at the expense of the rest. The wooden figures into which the souls are made to pass from the skulls sound a new note and I am very glad you were able to get some, even at the expense of bringing down thunderstorms on top of you. What happens to the skulls afterwards? Are they still kept till they rot away, like among the Konyaks. I did regret leaving behind a decorated Konyak skull in a small cist at Kongan, though I made sketches of it. I wanted it badly.
text: What was the Kigwema riot about? and did it blow over eventually?
text: By the way I can't be sure if I wrote to congratulate you on the son-and-heir. If I did not I do so now most heartily and hope that Mrs Hutton is well again and that all goes well. When the 'self government' bubble has burst I hope that Hutton minor may be induced to carry on his father's good work among the Nagas. I must get this posted to catch the Indian mail, so adieu for the present. Let me know when your leave will be and when Mrs Hutton is coming home. Col. L.W. Shakespear has just sent a ripping lot of Naga and Manipuri things with carefully recorded data. I hope to see him before long.
text: Henry Balfour