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: Crops en route to Yongiemdi; visit to gaonbura's house; xylophone; tattooing; art
medium: diaries
person: Mills/ J.P.NgakuYanchu/ of YongiemdiChieching/ of Yongiemdi
ethnicgroup: ChangPhomAoKonyak
location: Mongsenyimti (Mongsemdi) Yongyimti (Yongiemdi) Chuchu Yimlang (Susu) Ungri (Ungrurr)
date: 6.11.1922
person: Balfour/ Henry
date: 1922-1923
person: Pitt Rivers Museum Archive, Oxford
text: Mon. Nov. 6.
text: We started walking from Mongsemdi to Yongiemdi at 8.30 a.m., following a Naga path through jhums & passing small crofts of Black Sesamum (s. Indicum) and the better white oil-seed plant (Perilla ocimoides), both used for oil for food & for anointing the body; lentils, which when nearly ripe have the stems cut through, to cause the beans to dry off; sweet potatoes, taro, tobacco and loofah (used for scouring dishes etc.). These various crops are planted in small patches amid the general rice-crop. We reached a small stream & crossed it by a plank. Here I got into a carrying chair which had been improvised for me with an armchair from Mongsemdi bungalow, fitted with bamboo carrying-poles, lashed with cane thongs. I was carried uphill by 6 coolies, who chanted rhythmically all the way, each giving a single note (like a Russian horn band). The narrow path was very steep & it was difficult to get the chair up. It swayed & tipped so as nearly to throw me out. The way was largely through very tall sword-grass the leaves of which cut one badly when one was not on the look-out for it. We halted once for a rest, & Ngaku taught me how to make "dead men's rice-baskets" out of leaves. Ngaku (a Chang) is an excellent dobashi & is full of information about Naga lore. He constantly pointed out to me things of interest & was very keen for me to see everything.
text: A couple of large hornbills (Dichoceros) flew over our heads, making a tremendous noise with their wings. Just outside Yongiemdi village, the chief Yanchu (Lungkung Yangchu) met us. He is a fine, autocratic man (a Chang), who was one of the first to volunteer for service in France during the War, and to enlist Nagas for labour corps [I had seen many Nagas engaged in road-making outside Peronne during 1916 & I had only just missed meeting the Naga contingent in Bisera, where they went to recoup after being wrecked off Sicily]. Yanchu is a splendid type, whose word is law. We went to his house, a fine, large one, with verandah covered with a secondary roof, where the dhan-pounding mortars stand, & where there are carved pillars, one with buffalo's head carved in full relief & another with pairs of Hornbills. The large main room opens from the verandah & is in two parts, one on ground level with mud floor and hearth with three upright stones for pots; the other part raised & floored with coarse bamboo twilled matting. In this room hang a number of the thin, circular brass gongs, used as currency, the old ones, hammered out being worth 6 to 8 rupees, the new ones over 1.5 rupees. Some fine bamboo drinking vessels (Tobu-tung of the Chang) were hanging up, and a type of hoe, new to me, but of characteristic Chang type, with Y-shaped handles cut from forked branches, with iron blade. Yanchu gave me one of these. I saw many crossbows with bamboo bows & trigger very close to the butt end of the stock, used chiefly for setting as game-traps. The village (mainly Chang, but with Phom admixture) is laid out in 'streets', fairly well kept & very open. 60-70 houses only. The projecting gables overlap in the 'streets', & the slightly hog-backed roofs (except in Yanchu's house) do not rise in front, like those of the Ao Nagas. The only morung is not used for sleeping in, but contains a huge xylophone, 31.5 feet long & carved at one end with a curiously combined elephant's head & buffalo's head - the only instance of an elephant's head I have seen on these xylophones. We passed through the village & up to the small bungalow which is placed on a very commanding knoll overlooking the village, & with magnificent views all round, over the Chang & Phom country in the east & the Konyak country in the north-east. The plains of Assam could be seen in the distance & the country we had left to the south. The villages of Susu and Ungrurr, lying to the north of Mongsemdi, could be clearly seen. Mills had his tent erected & I occupied the bungalow, which is very simple with bamboo twill-work walls & no doors & with only one minute square hole for a window; mud floor & practically no furniture. A tin bucket did duty as a 'bath'. I sketched & photo'd in the village after tiffin, and copied some womens' tattoo marks, with much difficulty as the women & girls were extremely nervous & shy. We watched a man, Chieching, a very noted Chang artist, at work decorating a bamboo drinking vessel, by engraving it with a chisel made from a large nail. He had wonderful control & engraved his patterns by eye alone. He also demonstrated decoration by poker-work on a dao-carrier, using a splint of hard wood with smouldering end. His patterns were beautifully executed. We looked into a few of the houses. I measured at Yanchu's house an extremely fine mithan head with a span of 50.5 inches. Both mithan & buffalo heads are hung up on house-fronts, to record sacrifices performed [2 buffalo = 1 mithan, except in the case of a special large head of buffalo, when the values are reversed]. A cow was being cut up for distribution in the middle of the main street - a very merry sight! A Barking-deer (Muntjak) fawn, captured the day before, was brought to us; a very pretty little beast & not particularly frightened. A fine, cool night, with moon just past the full.