The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

manuscript - 'Diary of a Tour in the Naga Hills, 1922-1923' by Henry Balfour

caption: Visit to Ungma to see a genna performed
medium: diaries
person: Mills/ J.P.Hutton/ J.H.Rogers/ MrClarke/ F.P.
ethnicgroup: SangtamChangKalyo-KengyuAo
location: Mokokchung Kohima Nowgong Ungma
date: 31.10.1922
person: Balfour/ Henry
date: 1922-1923
person: Pitt Rivers Museum Archive, Oxford
text: Tuesday, Oct. 31st.
text: Cases were tried by Mills on his verandah, a lot of Sangtam litigants having come in. Three or four were made to take the oath on a leopard's skull. The skull was placed on the ground & the men were first made to repeat a formula in sentences. The swearer then made an impassioned declamation of his own, calling down upon his head disasters if he committed perjury; and then, he seized the leopard's jaw-bone and bit it, clinching the oath. The scene was interesting & the men were in deadly earnest. Two of them leapt about brandishing their daos after taking the oath.
text: Hutton started off on his return journey to Kohima, taking my pony with him, as being no longer wanted.
text: A good many of the men here (especially visiting Changs) wear the conical grass-work hats made by the Kalyo-Kengyu, some with tufts at the back. One of these hats was given to me & a Chongli Ao of Mokokchung gave me a tinder-box. I had a short walk around the compound & along a track which encircles the hill. Very beautiful. Tree ferns grow to a considerable height here. In the afternoon I went with Mills, Rogers & F.P. Clarke (two tea-planters from Nowgong, on a holiday in the Hills) to Ungma village, 3 miles off, to see some mithan-sacrifice dances & ceremonies. The village is arranged in 'streets'. Houses with standing gables overhanging the front, with walls & front of lattice-work. The houses of men who have performed the full series of genna sacrifices have the verandah enclosed with an angular bow-front, sometimes with a carved pillar erect along the angle & carved with tigers, hornbills, human heads etc., just like the fronts & carved pillars of the morungs. The roof-crests are decorated with comb-like 'enemies' hands' interdigitating. There were some large morungs with roofs sloping downwards towards the backs, & with angular, bowed fronts & carved posts. The carvings on one post represented 2 tigers, pairs of hornbills, human head, & a small tiger at the top. Pairs of snakes were carved on others, and on one an elephant. Inside the entrance is a low transverse mound of coarse bamboo matting, to form an obstacle to raiders. The interior is divided into 'cubicles' with sleeping platforms. Near each morung is a shed with thatched roof & open sides, under which is a huge monoxylic hollow gong, 30-35 feet long, with the front end carved into a conventionalized buffalo's head (see sketches). The sound from these dug-out gongs is deep & carries far. A number of boys beat rhythmically on the edges of the hollow with a pair of hinged log-strikers & with dumbbell-shaped pounders. The rhythm varies & chanting accompanies the performance.
text: Some of the mithan-sacrifice posts (forked) were carved with small mithan heads
text: On arrival at the place of sacrifice, we found two fine mithan bulls tied up to posts, with open-work baskets round their necks & hornbill feathers. They were to be sacrificed later, at night. Presently the women dancers began to arrive, all similarly dressed in deep-red blanket cloaks of elaborate pattern (worn by rich men's wives & daughters), wearing strings of carnelian & other beads, brass chains etc round their heads. Their hair was done up by tying round at the back, to form a deep chignon into which some had inserted hornbill (Dichoceros sp.) tail-feathers, to the number of the gennas performed by their husbands. Old women down to quite small girls took part in the dance, forming a circle (with a space between the leader and the smallest dancer). They slowly circled round & round with short steps, turning inward & forward in rhythmic sequence, chanting in low tones & making short stabbing movements with the right hand, which carried a dao or a narrow bunch of long bamboo leaves. In their ears the same leaves were worn. Many of the women smoked their pipes nonchalantly all the time. Their dancing was very slow, subdued & solemn. The men also formed their own line of dancers, dressed up to the nines, with bear-skin chaplets set radially with tail-feathers of hornbills, fringed baldricks worn over one or the other shoulder & supporting either fringed panji-baskets or the panji-basket with long, projecting fringed 'tail'. They performed their own circular dances, carrying spears & daos, circling round an old man, who chanted the tribal traditions in short phrases, which were answered by refrains from the dancers. At one period the male dancers circled round the dance-ring of the women & joined in the chanting. Inside the men's dance circle now & then solo men dancers gave vigorous dance-displays with spears which were cleverly spun round in the hand, thrown up & caught again, while the dancers jumped & paced up & down in a lithe, agile & vigorous manner, symbolic of attacks upon enemies. Presently the man who was performing the genna entered the circle, elaborately got up with hornbill feathers on his head, etc., to perform ceremonies. He appealed to the powers that be to give him the good fortune and success of his ancestors. He carried a cock in one hand, stroking it with the other (symbolic of the plucking alive of former days, now prohibited by Government). Later, the cock was sacrificed by having its head cut off with a bamboo knife, its blood being smeared on the mithan post. Its entrails were drawn out & augury was taken by splanchnoscopy. The cock's body was then impaled on a bamboo spike & stuck on the top of a mithan post. Offerings of zu were made by the man & his wife, by pouring onto the ground from special banana-leaf cups, which were afterwards fixed to the mithan post. The performer of the genna invited us into his house, to drink zu with him. He was a fine-looking fairly young man. The dancing continued and we left them still at it (they go on for four days or so, beginning at about 4 p.m. each day & continuing well into the night). We could not stay for the mithan-killing ritual, which was to be performed that night. The mithan would first be lightly struck on the head with a stone, then ceremonially 'speared' with a bamboo spear, & finally despatched with a spear. Formerly, the poor beasts were stamped & beaten to death - this is now forbidden.
text: We returned to Mokokchung by 3/4 moonlight, & the two planters came to dinner. One of them, F.P. Clarke, knew Jack Freeborn in Oxford, having stayed with his brother, as a p.g., some while ago.