The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

letter from Carveth Read to J.H. Hutton

caption: Naga girl's writing inspired by spirits; psychological explanations; monoliths
medium: letters
person: Hutton/ J.H.
date: 6.4.1923
person: Read/ Carveth
person: Pitt Rivers Museum Archive, Oxford
refnum: Hutton Ms. Box 374-75
text: Halford, Nr. Bridgewater
text: 6 April, 1923
text: Dear Hutton,
text: Your letter about the inspired child who spoils so much writing paper has lain too long unanswered. The article on Naga monoliths reminded me of it. But my not having written before was probably due to my having nothing to say about it; and that is still my condition. Amongst ourselves it is a common occurence for a child to announce its intention of 'writing', and to do so upon every scrap of paper obtainable for some time. But that is plainly imitativeness, and there is no claim to inspiration.
text: This Naga girl cannot have got the idea of writing out of her own consciousness: She must have seen it done or have heard it described. She may deny this (I suppose) without intentional deceit. As to the 6 female and 4 male spirits that direct her, does the local belief in 'possession' account for such a delusion? The observation of 'genna' was (I suppose) an imitation of local religious customs, and needs no further explanation.
text: What the local belief in possession is I don't know. If it will explaine her delusion, that is enough. That the girl should have undertaken to write without any knowledge of what it is to 'write', is impossible; and she herself, therefore, is logically non-existant. The cunning of village headmen is, no doubt, far beyond my penetration and if you and your colleague cannot fathom it, nobody can.
text: I have not yet found any place for your note; but am going to Town now for a few days and will enquire.
text: About those monoliths: You have no doubt they are phallic; and, of course, such emblems have been conspicuous in many religions. Some 40 or 50, or 60 years ago, there was a school of anthropologists that traced nearly all religion to this source. In those days I did not attend mush to these matters, but got the impression that their extreme doctrines were completely refuted. Now, however, Freud and his followers are resusitating the theory on the strength of what is called the 'New Psychology'. I wish I had time to examine the case fully, but for a good while to come it is impossible. Therefore, I wish somebody else would. I did not gather from your books that the phallic cult is by any means predominant in Naga religion, and generally in other religions it seems to me to be a partial strain of superstition with its own deities and rites rather than the national institution. This, I think, was the result of the controversy some 50 years ago; and it is annoying to an old man to find that when the brains are out of a delusion (as Carlyle would say) it does not die, but after a few years seems as much alive as ever; and to reflect that even if he tried to brain it again and appeared to have succeeded, it would before long revive again, whilst he himself (poor ghost) could raise no further protest - utterly cut off from the use of pen and paper...
text: Carveth Read