The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

published - J.H. Hutton, Diaries of Two Tours in the Unadministered Area East of the Naga Hills', 1926

caption: first tour
caption: Yungya - looking for hidden pigs; head-taking; disposal of the dead; ficus trees, the wild fig; bees and wasps
medium: articlestours
ethnicgroup: ChangKonyak
location: Kamahu Yungya Mongnyu Shamnyu Phomhek Ukha Nian (Nyan)
date: 10.4.1923
person: Hutton/ J.H.
date: 4.1923-27.4.1923
text: April 10th. - Having rained all night again, it was still raining hard in the morning, but cleared up about midday. The Kamahu people and our Changs searched for pig, but did not find very many. What there were, were hidden in holes in the ground excavated under the surface so that the pig should not root their way out. They did find a few of the Yungya heads, some of which were identified as having grown on Mongnyu and Kamahu bodies when alive. One of our Changs told us that when Shamnyu, a Konyak (" Chagyik ") village, raided the Chang village of Phomhek, and lost thirty heads to it in the process, they cut off the heads of their own killed rather than leave them behind for the enemy. [Mills suggests a reason, deduced by him from the Ao belief that the soul is earth-bound till the decapitator of the body die, so that if the head be not taken by the enemy , the soul will be saved from this fate. This reason however, seems to me too weak for the case. I doubt if any Naga would decapitate a friend from motives of compassion for his soul, risking the dead mans anger to perform an act naturally repugnant and normally tabooed. I think that the original motive is to be sought in the idea which seems to underlie all head-hunting, that with the head the soul of the dead is carried off to increase the prosperity of the captor. By taking the heads of their own side the defeated raiders would carry back the souls of their own dead to add to the store of vitality, fertility and prosperity in their own village, or at any rate prevent the enemy's doing so. The practise is not unique among head-hunters, being reported from the head-hunters of Kafiristan (J.R.A.I., XXVII, p.82) and also from New Zealand (Old New Zealand by a Pakeha Maori. ch. III]
text: The Yungya trophies (Plate 1, fig. 7
text: Yungya dispose of their dead like Yacham in trees, removing the head when ripe and burying it in a potlet into the ground among the roots of the corpse tree, or a neighbouring tree and covered with a flat stone. The corpse tree is a ficus, for which there is some consistent veneration among Nagas. The Lhota mingethung - head-tree - is usually the same ; as also is that of the Wa in Burma ; [Scott and Hardiman, Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan States I, ii. p. 38 sq.] while the Angamis say that a ficus is the priest of the trees. Again the Dusun of Borneo concur. [Evans. op. cit. p. 152.] The Mafulu in New Guinea use a species of fig almost exactly as Yungya do for their dead, while other Papuan tribes revere the tree. [Williamson. The .Mafulu. pp. 256-263 ; Lyons. Tree Reverence among Papuans; Man, May 1923.] Similarly the Ficus religiosa is worshipped in a tribe of the South of India by women who desire offspring, [Frazer. Folk-Lore in the Old Testament III. p. 316.] and by the Akikuyu of British East Africa in the same way, the Akikuyu definitely regarding the wild fig tree as the abode of the souls of the dead. [Frazer - Golden Bough (The Magic Art). II p. 316.] The connection of the two ideas is obvious. Sir J. G. Frazer, in a note [Loc. cit.,. p. 317.] quotes Livingstone as saying of the ficus, "It is a sacred tree all over Africa and India-" Apparently he might have added New Guinea and perhaps Indonesia generally as well. In a note on an Angami folk-tale, Folk-Lore, [Vol. XXV. 4. p. 492 (Dec. '14)>2.] suggests that the Angami beliefs are borrowed from Hinduism, where the veneration for the ficus religiosa is well known. It seems to me more likely that all these beliefs about, and the veneration for, the wild fig, have their origin in some ancient negroid cult spread all round the Indian Ocean, which has grown up into Hinduism from below, and traces of which one would expect to find in tribes which have obviously absorbed an appreciable strain of negroid blood. The Naga tribes appear to me to have not only never been seriously under the influence of Hinduism but to be probably entirely untouched by it, except perhaps a few who live among Manipuris in the Manipur Valley. Similarly I am disposed to suspect the survival of a definitely Negrito belief in the practice of hanging the combs of bees or wasps in the entrances of houses. On this particular tour we saw them everywhere, a huge comb in the front of a morung in Ukha, a Konyak village to the south-east of Yungya, being particularly noticeable. I did not succeed in getting any very definite reason for the practice, though someone said that it kept the wild cats away (they wreak havoc with the chickens in these hills), and the Semas say that it helps to make the eggs hatch, no doubt because it has already succeeded in hatching out a brood of wasps. The Thado Kukis, however (for I found some Kuki constables in my police force hanging combs in front of their quarters) state quite definitely that empty honeycombs are invaluable for warding off the onslaughts of evil spirits. One presumes that they are afraid of getting stung by the bees there might be in it, or, as Mills suggests, that they cannot find the way through, or perhaps that they have to stop and count the cells, while A. R. Brown, in The Andaman Islanders gives this as an Andaman belief, the wax of the black bee - perhaps a fierce rock bee as in the Naga Hills - being particularly efficacious in keeping off the spirits of the forest. Mr. Henry Balfour tells me that combs are also so used in the Malay Peninsula. Anyhow, the appearance of this belief in the Andamans, which can have been little influenced by alien cultures suggests that it is of Negrito origin.
text: In Yungya, as in Tangsa and Tamlu, hunting dogs are buried, like men, with houses over their graves, offerings of meat, etc. If this be neglected the surviving and subsequent dogs do not hunt well. Similarly the Thado Kukis always bury their hunting dogs with four corner-posts (vakot) to the grave like men. [cf. also The Angami Nagas, p.81; Mills op. cit. p. 63] The Italians crowned them. [Frazer, The Golden Bough, 1,14; II, 125, 127.]
text: At the neighbouring village of Nyan, I noticed, a rain hat in use made like an oval shield with a headpiece in the centre of the underside as in the case of a ' mortar-board.' [SKETCH