The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

Typescript, J.P. Mills, Tour Diary, March 1927, with comments by Ursula Betts, 1986

caption: Notes on the history and the present appearance and customs of Semkhor
medium: tours
person: Hutton/ J.H.
ethnicgroup: KachariKaccha NagaKonyakAngami <EasternMerwangmaiMaghAoNoktangr
location: Semkhor Dimapur Kasaibam Thenbam Pharisadindi Phendama Jujaranga Rangkadophelai Diharang Bampreshamring Maibong Mokhale Guilong
date: 4.4.1927
person: Betts/ UrsulaMills/ J.P.
date: 3.1927
person: School of Oriental and African Studies Library, London
text: As there seems to be no account in existence of the inhabitants of Semkhor I record this brief note. The village consists of just over a hundred houses and is situated on a low spur with steep sides. The inhabitants are Hindus after the fashion of Kacharis. They allow Kacharis, but no one else, to enter their houses, and are allowed in turn to enter Kachari houses. Of their ultimate origin I could find no tradition. The first site they know of is Dimapur, which they abandoned before the Kachari King established himself there. They know nothing of the carved monoliths. They migrated slowly to their present site, settling in turn at Kasaibam, Thenbam, Pharisadindi, Phendama, Jujaranga, Rangkadophelai, Diharang and Bampreshamring. All these sites await identification. They migrated alone from Dimapur and first came in touch with the Kachari King when he was settled at Maibong. To him they paid a tribute of salt, and of a leg of each head of game killed. They, together with Kacharis, formed the royal fighting force, and a Kachari fort, of which the rampart is still plainly visible, was established at Mokhale, about three miles from Semkhor and a short distance below the Guilong path. They have, however, never intermarried with Kacharis. The reason why the (24) village is the only one of its kind is that the Kachari King strictly forbade the sending out of any colonies; if any one wanted to leave the parent village he had to go and live in a Kachari village.
text: The men are tall and well-made, but without great muscular development. Unfortunately I had no chance of taking any head measurements. In face they do not resemble either Kacharis or Kachha Nagas, and one sees more beards than one does in most Naga villages. Some of the older men reminded me strongly of Konyaks, while the younger men often reminded me of Eastern Angamis. This latter resemblance may however, be due to the method of doing the hair, which closely resembles that of the latter tribe. The whole head is shaved save the crown, where a long lock of hair is allowed to grow and is twisted into a knot. Nearly all their clothes are of heavy Muga silk, for weaving which a Kachari loom is used. The usual dress of the men is a silk cloth round the body and a white silk kilt, with one corner pulled through between the legs and tucked into the belt at the back. Some of the older men however, still keep to the old dress, a tight perineal band with an embroidered end tucked into the belt at the back. This is the precise dress of the headless statue of a warrior now outside the rest house at Maibong. The women wear a silk skirt and a white silk (25) cloth bound round the upper part of the body. For ornaments the men wear "deo moni" heads and strips of cane, usually of the natural colour, round the leg below the knee.
text: The houses are simple affairs with level roof trees, and are built on levelled house sites, though part of a house will occasionally be in short poles if the site is cramped. There are two very plain "deka changs" with bamboo sleeping benches in them. The only thing I found in them was a very heavy bamboo stick, which caused great amusement. When a young man visits a girl at night he always carries one of these sticks with him in order to enable him to take suitable action if he finds a rival there first. I saw no carving either in the "deka changs" or anywhere else in the village. The "deka changs" have three outer doors in front after the Merwangmai fashion. Over and by these doors and those of many of the houses are pointed bamboos marked with transverse black lines, which are identical with those put up in a similar position by the Maghs of the Chittergong Hill Tracts. Outside the lower "deka chang" is a relic of great interest, namely a heap of flat stones on which enemies' heads were placed. They were kept there till the days of genna were over and were then (26) thrown away "because the Semkhor people are Hindus". No fresh stone was added when a head was taken. Besides stone sitting places of the Merwengmai type there are a number of monoliths of moderate size and a few small ones about a foot high. Of these I could obtain no explanation, being told that the former were set up by order of the Kachari King, and the latter by children for fun. I saw another stone sitting place in an oak avenue leading to the village. The village contains a sloping stone and a jumping place of the Merwangmai type, as among them the young men jump on the last day of the year after harvest and again a few days later.
text: The villagers buy such spears and daos as they require, but I was shown one ancient long-tanged dao with a curved tip identical with the one I saw at Guilong.
text: The burial customs are most interesting and significant. The cemetery is close to two old pipal trees, just outside the village and about seventy feet above a stream. The body, together with clothes and ornaments, is burnt at the cemetery. The ashes are then collected and a little square of mat placed over them and pinned down, and on the mat are placed imitation "deo-Moni" beads made of little cylinders of plantain (27) leaf. A long narrow roof is built high up over this, and a cloth spread over the roof. The whole is fenced round. One naturally expects to see a corpse platform under such a roof, for the whole thing is reminiscent of platform-burial. There is such a platform, but only a very small one, at one end. On this is placed a most curious imitation head, with a piece of cloth suspended over it to represent the roof of the head-house. The head is like a bamboo basket egg cut in half. Every piece of bamboo in it is wound round with red thread. A series of coarse threads obviously represent hair, the top knot (or bun, in the case of a woman) being a tuft of black thread. On each side is a little section of pith to represent an ear ornament, and a thick loop of cotton serves for beads round the neck. One side is left open to represent the face. Over the back of the head is thrown a scrap of old cloth. The graves both of men and women are decorated with bird scarers (flat slats of wood), which may be very degenerate bull-roarers, and with the squares of thread one sees on the graves of Angami women. Since these squares are put on the graves of both sexes I take it they have nothing to do with the use of thread by women, but are cobwebs to (28) catch evil spirits. Near each grave is a separate platform on wooden poles on which are placed offerings of taro and cooking pots. On the path to the cemetery from the village is placed at each funeral a small offering of thread, a walking stick, a water "chunga" etc. Space in the cemetery being very limited old grave erections are simply thrown down the bank to make way for others, the imitation heads being thrown away with the other old rubbish.
text: The people of Semkhor are divided into five exogamous clans with Kachari names - Pong longsa, Langtasa, Hampelampasa, Shingnungsa and Thosensa. No clan is regarded as superior to any other, and the oldest man in the village directs ceremonies regardless of his clan. All clans may eat the same food but pigs stomach is avoided by all.
text: These people have Kachari clan names, they make fire by the Kachari method and not by the Naga method; they speak Kachari; the dress of their women is Kachari; their looms and houses are of Kachari pattern; they claim the same caste as Kacharis. But they are not Kacharies, and claim to be different from any other tribe. They quite clearly resemble none of their neighbours. Dr Hutton long ago formed the opinion that the Kachari kings used as guards people of that ancient race which the Aos call Noktangr (or Noklangr), or Molungr or Yongr. and which are represented (29) by the present day Konyaks. It is to this race that I think the people of Semkhor belong. Such Kachari attributes as they possess could easily have been acquired during long years of close relationship with that race. Certain Konyak features strike one at once. (1) The obvious relics of platform burial, with special tratment of the head. (2) The placing of enemies' heads on a heap of flat stones outside the "deka chang". (3) The way in which the "deka chang" is obviously not used only as a sleeping place for the night, but as a club by day. (4) The cane bands round the leg, and the perineal band, which is, I believe worn by some of the northern Konyaks. (5) The association of pipal trees with the corpse platform. (6) The avoidance of pig's stomach, a custom which the Aos attribute to the Molungr. (7) The custom of planting oak avenues (which the Aos may have learnt from their predecessors the Noktangr). (8) The offering to the dead of taro, the staple diet of the Konyaks. Whatever the truth may be Semkhor contains a most interesting remnant which would well repay further investigation.
text: Deputy Commisioner,
text: North Cachar,
text: 4/4/27