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: 1943 sequel to Semkhor history - traditional military history and exemption
medium: tours
person: Perry/ MrMills/ J.P.
ethnicgroup: KachariAhomKonyakNzemi
location: Semkhor Haflong Maibong Silchar Shillong Laisong
date: 1943
person: Betts/ UrsulaMills/ J.P.
date: 3.1927
person: School of Oriental and African Studies Library, London
text: [UGB: There was something of a sequel in, I think, 1943 to Mr. Mills' account of this enigmatic village.
text: With the Japanese on the Burma border and the emergency increasing, all the North Cachar villages - except for those in the V. Force Watch and Ward Area, which were busy already - were called on for labour contingents for portering, road-making and other necessary work. Semkhor sent a delegation to Mr.Perry, the Sub-Divisional Officer at Haflong, and explained that they had long ago been given exemption from all military service on account of that which they had already rendered to the Kachari Kings. The story they told to Perry differs markedly from that told to Mills, but may as well be recorded here.
text: Their story was that when the last Kachari King was driven from Maibong by the Ahoms and retired to the plains of Silchar, he dismissed Semkhor's forebears, as they were hillmen and could not stand the heat of the plains; he gave them land in the hills and they settled there. With this went the permanent exemption. Perry looking slightly doubtful, the senior headman, with the air of one displaying the ultimate proof, whipped out and displayed what looked like a long pink table-runner. Perry surveyed this and gently pointed out that there had since been a change of rulers. At this poor Semkhor's faces fell beyond belief. However, Perry went on, he would send the cloth, if they wished, to the Governor in Shillong and ask for his ruling. So it happened, as I was already in my compartment and the train just about to pull out to take me on leave to Shillong, that Perry dashed alongside, panted out his story, and thrust the treasure in to me, and I left with the precious relic and a horrible responsibility. I packed it into my overnight bag, anxiously wrapped in a nightdress, and next day I delivered it to Mills, who was then Governor's Secretary and responsible for all the hill areas.
text: The cloth was an extremely interesting object. It was of soft, rather loosely woven cotton, rather like the material sold by needlework shops for cross-stitch. Down the centre ran an inscription, probably made with black ficus-sap, and there was a border of triangles in the same medium. Whatever its age (it cannot have been later than the first half of the 18th century) it was in perfect condition. Mills submitted it to an expert on Kachari history, and I understand that the inscription proved to be the name of the King concerned, though I never heard the date. At any rate, Semkhor's title held good and they had their exemption.
text: The incident would seem to go a considerable way to support Mills' 1927 suggestion that Semkhor could be descendants of the Konyak Nagas of the Kachari Kings' bodyguard. I believe this bodyguard was highly-valued, as with the Scottish Archers of the French Kings; I believe it is on record that they were given as wives 'the finest girls, as white as grains of rice'.
text: It remained for me to return the relic to Semkhor, a thing I was only too anxious to do. I sent to the village, proposing that I come over and return it. This, however, would not do. (Having read Mills' account I wish I could have done so.) Semkhor sent back to say that they would arrive in due course and collect it themselves. Whether their reluctance to accept strangers in the village was at the bottom of it, or whether, Semkhor being a long way from Laisong, they would have had to build a camp for me, I do not know. At any rate, to my great relief, a delegation eventually arrived and the cloth was handed over. They came very late in the evening, when the light was poor, but I managed to take a photograph of the headman displaying it. The colour, by the way, was a dull rose-pink.
text: Altogether a rather unusual episode.
text: There are still various relics of the Kachari Kings among the Nzemi Naga villages, mostly for gifts in recognition of good service. I have seen some of these, but on condition that I did not reveal their whereabouts, in case some unscrupulous officials 'collected' them 'on behalf of the Government'.]