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: Morungs and xylophones; burial customs and taboos; houses; bullroarers
medium: diaries
person: Mills/ J.P.
ethnicgroup: Konyak
location: Wakching Kongan Tamlu
date: 17.11.1922
person: Balfour/ Henry
date: 1922-1923
person: Pitt Rivers Museum Archive, Oxford
text: Fri. Nov. 17.
text: We left Wakching at 8.15 a.m. for Kongan (10 miles). I travelled most of the way in the chair. Palm Swifts (a small, specialized swift which builds its nest under the leaves of Hyphaene palms) were flying around. An Imperial Pigeon was seen, & a flock of Rose-breasted parakeets. At first the way was downhill through jungle, but all the upward slopes on the Kongan side of the valley were quite open & almost treeless, owing to extensive jhuming. At Kongan I took possession of the small bungalow & Mills had his tent pitched. After lunch I went up to the village, a long, steep climb, & Mills joined me later. The village (a Konyak one) is fairly large & scattered, on very irregular ground, parts of which are heavily strewn with huge sandstone boulders, which are often built into the houses & morungs. There are four morungs, one of which is double. Their general design is very similar, but the great irregularity of the ground surface imposes modifications in structural design. The double morung [Khangkhai Pangnyu, or 'parent morung of Khangkhai', and Khangkhai Pangha, or 'offspring morung of Khangkhai'] is practically a single one with two separate buildings. These are connected by a raised bamboo bridge, which extends from one front to the other. The xylophones are under separate sheds, except at Yungsha morung, where it lies under the verandah. The xylophones are all practically of the same type, though the conventional designs carved on the two ends vary in detail. Near the Khangkhai morungs is the burial place, where a long row of small machans is situated, on each of which is a body in a trough-shaped wooden coffin, usually carved at one end with two Hornbill heads in complete relief. The bodies are covered with palm-leaves & a raised shield covers the hither end. Cloths, baskets etc. the personal property of the deceased, hang from the machans. After the platforms have decayed & collapsed, the skulls are placed in small stone cists covered with a flat stone; or else in large pots, and are deposited in a special skullary or Golgotha in another part of the village, near the Chingha morung. Eventually the cists break up & the skulls rot away. No one may touch them. Quantities of these stone cists & urns lie around in disorder & the skulls which have fallen out. Some of the skulls were decorated with painted designs & one still bore an ornamental fillet. I wanted to sketch & photograph one of the decorated skulls, but no one would remove it from its cist & I was not allowed to touch it. After a prolonged discussion & after I had said that I would take all the risk of spiritual vengeance, I was told that I might remove the skull so long as I did not touch it with my hands. So I got two sticks & with them I lifted the skull from the cists & placed it on a log, & after sketching it, I returned it to the cist the same way, without being struck dead or otherwise punished by the spirits of the dead! Throughout the village stand bamboo poles on which hang personal belongings of & offerings to the dead. The houses vary with the ground levels, the floors of the compartments being raised or lowered to fit the natural contours. The platforms at the back are raised on bamboo piles sometimes 18 or 20 feet high, to adapt them to the sloping ground. The rooms are very dark & the roofs reach down to very near the ground. The verandahs are closed in and apsoidal. Two small houses of different type to the rest, were said to be used for promiscuous intercourse. Over one house a newly-hatched chicken was hung, as a substitute for a sick person, for the spirits to transfer the sickness to. It got very dark & as the way to the bungalow was of a break-neck description, I returned there before it became too dark to see at all. I had collected a number of bullroarer-like wooden pendants which hang in clusters from the morung gables, to rattle in the wind & keep away evil spirits. They look like bullroarers, but these Konyaks of Kongan, while knowing of the bullroarer, say that it is genna to use it. Bullroarers are made & used by the Konyaks of Tamlu, which village can be seen from Kongan. It seems likely that these morung pendants are derivatives from the bullroarer, whose function had been changed. They are called ma in Kongan; the Tamlu bullroarers are called Kampi. The possible connection of the two needs investigation. I also bought, for 2 rupees, one of the buffalo-horn trumpets used in the morungs.