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: some cases
caption: murder at Khonoma
medium: articles
location: Khonoma
person: Cantlie/ Keith
date: 1919-1920
form: private collection
refnum: loaned by Dr Audrey Cantlie
seealso: Cantlie Tour Diary 6.3.1920
text: Only one murder occurred in my tenure. The Assamese police sub-inspector came about ten o'clock at night to report about a murder at Khonoma ten miles from Kohima. I went at once with him and half a dozen armed police reserve men who were Gurkhas and so could be relied upon and I took my own revolver as Khonoma men are renowned for hostility in history. The dismembered pieces of a body were laid out in a hut. They were said to have been found in a shallow grave in a field. A middle aged woman identified them, giving the name of the dead man. I asked whether this was certain and received the reply from an Angami dobashi who had come with me that it was certain as she was his mother. The facts were that the murdered man and a friend had gambled together alone in a hut and this friend had lost all his possessions and even his land. So to even out matters this friend had killed him. The friend was arrested and admitted everything. When trying him I did my best to discover whether any sudden quarrel had occurred so that I could convict of murder but avoid a death penalty. But he would only say he did it to avoid losing his money and land. I was so horrified in seeing the old mother handling the pieces of her son that I decided to sentence him to death even though I would be compelled to be present at it in Kohima jail, a dreadful ordeal. In hills districts all capital sentences had to be approved by the Governor. The papers were sent but a long time passed during which I had to look into the condemned cell at my weekly visits. One morning I had visited the jail and was returning to my bungalow when the thought came into my head that I had missed doing something. After reflection it seemed to be connected with that morning's post and then I remembered getting a telegram with red and blue stripes on the envelope; a sign it was connected with a murder case. The contents then came into my memory. It was a reprieve, the sentence being changed to one of transportation for life. This meant 14 years in the Andaman Islands. So I walked back to the prisoner who showed no emotion. The red and blue stripes on the envelope were ordered by the Government of India owing to a mishap in some Province. The District Officer was playing billiards at the club when a telegram arrived. He put it unopened in his pocket. Next morning he found it when dressing. It was a reprieve from death but the prisoner had been hanged at dawn.
text: Sir William Reid of the I.C.S. had been Deputy Commissioner of the Naga Hills in his younger days and I heard him tell a strange story on this subject. It may have happened in his time but sounds as if it were in earlier days when Hills Deputy Commissioners were more of a law unto themselves. A Naga was sentenced to death for murder. He asked to be allowed to visit his village to say goodbye to his relatives, promising to return. He was permitted to do so. He returned and was hanged.