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 Mongsemdi: winnowing; cotton; burial customs; house form
medium: diaries
person: Mills/ J.P.Ngaku
ethnicgroup: ChangAo
location: Mongsenyimti (Mongsemdi) Mokokchung Brahmaputra R.
date: 4.11.1922
person: Balfour/ Henry
date: 1922-1923
person: Pitt Rivers Museum Archive, Oxford
text: Sat. Nov. 4.
text: I packed up for the new trek with Mills & we started at 9 a.m. for Mongsemdi (14 miles) with 25 coolies carrying loads, various dobashis and other camping functionaries. It had rained during the night. Soon after starting & before reaching Mokokchung village, I had a nasty heart attack, which made me unconscious & black in the face for some time, much to Mills's anxiety. Pretty sharp, but it passed off after a while & I was able to mount my pony (hired from Ngaku) & rode all the way to Mongsemdi, through fine jungle scenery, varied by 'jhum' cultivation areas. We passed near the Mission Station (American Baptist), 9 miles from Mokokchung. To the right we could see over the Chang country & several Ao villages were in sight to the left. The plains of Assam could be clearly seen in the far distance, the sands of the Brahmaputra showing up distinctly. We passed a Himalayan Bear's sitting out place in a tree (looking like a huge bird's nest), used chiefly in wet weather. Some 'sword-bean' trees were seen, & also a tree with large, globular fruit growing directly from the stem, the seeds of which are used for curing leprosy. I noticed that banana leaves often exhibit one or more rows of graduated holes, running in straight lines transversely across the leaves (just as I had seen in bamboo & canna leaves). Ngaku (our Chang dobashi) explained it by saying that an insect, or grub, bored right through the young leaf, while still tightly rolled up & that when the leaf expanded & flattened out, the tunnel so formed was converted into an alignment of holes, diminishing in size from one end to the other. We reached Mongsemdi at about 2 p.m. The Inspection Bungalow is exactly at the entrance to the village, so that one sees much of the ordinary village life going on from it. Rice-husking with the winnowing basket (the Roman 'vannus') was in operation on all sides (the rice being tossed in the air, so that the wind carried away the light husks & the grain fell back into the basket). Cotton-cleaning with a small wooden roller on a flat stone was going on; weaving & other industries. We went through the main village, visiting the morung (Chang style) & its huge xylophone at the far end. Then we traversed the new portion of the village, passing a new morung & finding another small new one with xylophone. Both these morungs are poor ones. Between the two parts of the village lies the burial place, where the bodies are placed on machans, raised well above ground on bamboo piles. A thatched gable roof covers the platform without side or end walls. The form & decoration of the roof indicates the status of the deceased. Some have the small gable-extension in front,
text: The houses in Mongsemdi are mostly alligned in definite 'streets', the surface of which is much smoother than in other Ao villages seen so far. The overhanging gable-ends often meet across the street. The house-fronts vary with the owner's status. Some have plain, flat fronts, over which the roof end projects, forming a verandah. Others have a rounded secondary roof over the verandah, which is sometimes closed in with an apsoidal wall of bamboo lattice-work. Others, again, have the 'secondary' roof projecting in angular form, not always reaching the ground. The full, enclosed, angular front indicates the completion of the full tale of genna sacrifices. These verandah front walls are well-woven in twilled bamboo-strip work & the vertical angle has a decorated, narrow panel down it, or sometimes, a carved pillar with animal figures, after the type of morung posts. All the houses are highest at the front gable end, & slope downwards towards the back. Many of the gable ridges are decorated with "enemies' hands" of split bamboo, & some have broken pots fixed on spikes on the ridge-pole. Inside, there is a small anteroom, usually on ground level. A large back-room is usually raised a couple of feet & has a notched-log ladder leading to it