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: touring
caption: wild animals and snakes
medium: articles
person: Cantlie/ Keith
date: 1919-1920
form: private collection
refnum: loaned by Dr Audrey Cantlie
text: On tour one did not see wild animals but I did once happen to see the reddish brown dogs hunting in a valley below me. The jungle cultivated every 10 years was young and thin enabling me to see them. They were spread out like a fan and were silent. Doubtless they were hunting the small barking deer no larger than themselves. Very few people have seen them hunting. Tigers and leopards lived in the hills above the cultivating altitudes or down in the low hills too malarious for the Nagas to cultivate. A Government reward of 10 rupees for a tiger skin and five for a leopard was paid. Sometimes the whole animal was brought in. But the skins were never fresh enough and though I rubbed arsenical soap on them and posted them to a firm in Mysore, South India, the cured skins were never perfect, even after treatment by this specialist firm. At the leading naturalist shop in London, Rowland Ward, a splendidly mounted tiger was priced at about a hundred pounds, so when on the retirement of my father, the contents of our house were sold, at auction, I was disappointed to get only about a pound or 30 shillings on an average though some leopard skins were in fair condition, at any rate in my eyes. One alarming experience remains in my mind. I was walking on a path whose borders had been cleared of long grass by Naga villagers with sickles leaving two or three inches of grass. I saw a very large snake moving alongside us. From its wide dark bands I knew it must be a Hamadryad whose bite is fatal. It is the only snake that will attack a man without being trodden on or disturbed. I had no stick but got my gun loaded with small no.4 shot from one of my attending Nagas. If I hit it in the head I would be rid of it. If I missed it would get rid of me. I walked on but the snake moved on too and stopped whenever I stopped.
text: Years later I learned at the Pasteur Institute that if attacked I could hold out my coat and the snake would attack the coat when the Nagas with their daos would sever its head from its body. But I lacked confidence in my nerve and skill to perform this way. At the Pasteur Institute in Shillong they did experiments with cobra venom. Cobras in the Naga Hills are scarce. The cage containing the cobra was placed alongside that containing a guinea pig. There was some construction of trap doors so that the cobra could enter the cage of the guinea pig. The snake bit the guinea pig. Then the top of the cage was taken off and a piece of cloth lowered to hang in front of the guinea pig. The cobra would strike again. A menial of staff would with lightning like rapidity seize the cobra behind its expanded head and throw it back into its own cage. For this he received the princely wage of about the equivalent of one pound a month in English money. In theory the crystals of potassium permanganate neutralised the venom. A firm of British chemists sold a leather case containing phials of drugs to treat common tropical maladies. I had one. A wooden instrument had a scalpel at one end and a compartment for permanganate crystals at the other. The head of the Pasteur Institute told me he opened up the wounds in all guinea pigs so bitten and packed the wound with permanganate without a moment's delay. But all the guinea pigs died.