The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

'The Feast of Merit among the Northern Sangtam Tribe of Assam', by C.R. Stonor, 1950

caption: details of the ritual
caption: sacramental nature of meat and beer; missionaries ban the drinking of beer but not spirits
medium: articles
ethnicgroup: Sangtam <Northern
date: 12.1947
person: Stonor/ C.R.
date: 1950
refnum: 'Anthropos', vol. XLV 1950
text: The two essentials of the feasts are thus (1) provision of meat, (2) provision of beer. Both food and drink are clearly of a sacramental nature. This has been pointed out by Stevenson [ footnote: H. N. C. Stevenson, The Economics of the Central Chin Tribes (1943). ] in respect of the Chins, but has been incompletely emphasised by writers on the Naga tribes. Thus, in the case of the beer, it is brewed over a special fire, during a specified period, and from grain pounded in ritual manner. The offering of beer before certain phases of the ceremony, the definite rules as to its provision and distribution, the heating of a small quantity over the sacred fire during dancing, and its consumption by senior representatives of the gathering, are all indications of its religious significance. The last instance is particularly interesting since the beer is already prepared and ready for consumption when it is heated over the fire. The symbolic portrayal of the ferment used in brewing on the cloth connected with the Yungti feast is a further proof of its nature.
text: The significance of the beer is of course well understood by the Nagas themselves, and is one of the excuses for the total banning of alcohol to converts of the American Baptist Mission. This was brought home to the writer in a striking manner some months ago, when a Naga head-man, a professed Baptist, asked for a drink of rum. In an attempt at humour I told him I was shocked to be asked for alcohol by so devout a man, and was told that " the Padre Sahibs have only forbidden us rice beer, we are not forbidden to drink spirits ".
text: The sacredness of the meat is implied in the elaborate rules for its division, and even more so by the very small share allotted to the giver of the feast, while all who participate get a share. Among most or all other Naga Tribes, it is strictly forbidden for the feaster to taste the meat from his own sacrifice. The consumption of even a small part of his own mithan [11] by the feaster at Phirre Ahirr caused much comment among Lhota Naga servants with me, who considered that such an act would be unheard of among their people.