The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

typescript - memoir of time in the Naga Hills as a Deputy Commissioner, 1919-1920

caption: language difficulties in the Naga Hills
medium: articles
person: Cantlie/ Keith
date: 1919-1920
form: private collection
refnum: loaned by Dr Audrey Cantlie
text: Administration in the Naga Hills presented peculiar difficulties. The number of languages spoken in Assam is usually put at sixty six and of this almost incredible number a large proportion must be spoken in the Naga Hills. From where the tribes came is unknown. Nearly all have a tradition that they came from the south, through Manipur. Their languages have been pronounced by Sir George Grierson as Thibeto-Burman and their original homes may perhaps have been in Western China but this last is quite uncertain. The Angami language is spoken in Kohima and Khonoma and the large group in that area and McCabe wrote a grammar in the Khonoma dialect so my first task was to learn Angami. Khonoma is only ten miles from Kohima but its speech differs as much as broad Scots from southern English in vowel pronunciation. The name Kohima (properly pronounced with the emphasis on the "o") represents the Khonoma pronunciation; the Kohima people spoke it something like Kehwhimey. The High school was conducted by American Baptists, the incumbent in my time being Rivenburgh, a very nice man. He has had a few Angami converts. The main American Mission was among the Ao Nagas far from Kohima. My tutor was from Kohima. The missionaries had printed a small book of sentences in the Kohima dialect with its peculiar weakly pronounced vowel written as diphthongs. The same was done with their few school books.
text: Then there was Semas, Aos, Lhotas, Kutcha Nagas, Rengmas, Kukis each with their own speech, not intelligible to that of the others. Indeed the Ao tribe was divided into two sets, the Mongsen and Chongli who were of different ethnic origin and in spite of intermarriage for the past few generations spoke in different tongues. From where all these peoples came originally is disputable and conjectural. Probably they came proximately through the north of Burma, the Shan States, but originally as Sir George Grierson would place their languages in the Mon-Khmer group they may have come from country lying eastward towards China.