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: gennas - kenna and penna and the role of the Kemova and Pitsu
medium: articles
ethnicgroup: Angami
person: Cantlie/ Keith
date: 1919-1920
form: private collection
refnum: loaned by Dr Audrey Cantlie
text: But a speedy acquaintance with the magico-religious rite called "genna" in writings by British officials and stated by some, though not quite accurately, to be equivalent of "taboo" was a necessity. The word "genna" is the Angami word "kenna" and is used for ritual and customary observances for individuals and single households. For observances by whole villages the word which should be used is "penna". This was a prohibition of leaving the village to work in the fields for a day or several days. The main occasions were connected with the seasons for agriculture and were fixed by a Kemovo among the Angami who was skilled in this traditional knowledge and who held office by hereditary claim. He had no power other than the fixing of these days of prohibition. Celebrations varied in the villages. One village might omit a penna that was regularly observed in another. A celebration might be so important that dancing in ceremonial dress and drum beating might be features of it in some villages. Any breach by an individual was punishable by a fine and the British officials were expected to uphold the penalty as the breach would bring misfortune to the village inflicted by supernatural powers. One penna is supposed to ward off sickness coming to the village in the year. When any calamity occurred a genna (penna) could be proclaimed. When years after this, in 1944 I lost three of my porters at Khonoma who were carrying rations across the hill above to a Brigade hidden behind the Japanese forward lines but were discovered and killed by Japanese scouts a four days penna was proclaimed in Khonoma.
text: A kenna was a prohibition affecting individuals and might have reference to the large number of spirits, some benevolent and others malicious, each with its name, who existed in the unseen world or the prohibition might be merely a support for a social custom. For advice the Kemovo was called in in some villages but in others a functionary called a "pitsu" was in charge of private gennas i.e. kennas. For social customs the ordinary household knew usually what to do. There were elaborate customs at weddings extending over days and at childbirth, when the mother could not leave the house for five days and then only by the back door and was fed on special food. Breach of custom was called "kenna" but the penalty would be social disapproval so far as I know. I cannot remember any "kenna" case coming to court. Hutton mentions that it was "kenna" to burn for firewood the species of wood used for householding and one supposes that a breach would be punishable by a fine inflicted by the village community. Accumulation of this knowledge would have been fascinating but of no advantage to Government as I did not stay in the hills. Hutton in his book says that he does not know who had the power to make final decisions in cases between the obstinate minded Angamis but Butler in the Journal of Asiatic Studies 1875 says that adultery after marriage was so seriously regarded by Angamis that sometimes death penalty on man and woman was inflicted. In another narrative about that time the power was said to rest with the "khonbao" (the Kemovo must be meant) and the elders.