The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

miscellaneous papers, notebooks and letters on Nagas by Ursula Graham Bower, 1937-1947

caption: 'The Lovers' - myth
medium: notes
keywords: suicide
person: NamkiaGumtuing/ of Nenglo
ethnicgroup: Zemi
date: 30.5.1940-31.5.1940
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1937-1946
person: private collection
text: Many, many, many years ago a young man and a girl fell in love with each other, but his parents said "We will not pay for her" and hers said: "we will not give her." So the young man and the girl met and discussed what they should do; and they agreed that as their parents forbade them to marry they would go away and die together.
text: They went away stealthily into the jungle and climbed to the top of a very high cliff, and there they each took hold of a lock of their hair and tied it firmly to the other's, so that they would fall together; but the young man was suddenly afraid at the last minute, and taking scissors he cut his hair, and the girl fell alone and was killed. "Scissors." Both Namkia and Gumtuing used the word and action, but the instrument was presumably a knife (or dao - N's suggestion).
text: As the young man was going back to the village sore at heart, a black bird (which was really a spirit) began to call out and abuse him. "What sort of man are you? You're a coward, you're a coward! Your girl is dead and you were afraid to die too!" And it went on abusing him in the same strain. The young man was very troubled and thought to himself: "if this bird knows all about it and abuses me, what shall I do when I go to the village? Everybody will have heard the story, and I shall know nothing but shame. It is far better to go back and die." So he turned and went back to the cliff and flung himself over, and was killed beside the girl. From the spot where they died two flowers sprang up side by side, but hers was a little longer than his; had he died at the same time they would have been of one height.
text: We have a song about these two people, a very long song. They did not make any of it themselves, but the bird told another man, and he made it up, a long, long time ago. All the villages round here know that song. I used to know the name of the man who made it, but I have forgotten. The old men will know; I will ask.
text: Namkia stated that as a general rule girls are much more apt to go through with a suicide. Boys lose their nerve and are apt to think that "there are lots of good fish in the sea", but a girl in despair will go straight off and do it.
text: P.S. by N:- "It was a very black bird!"
text: Laisong, May 30th, 1940.
text: From Hindustani, immediately after close of conversation.
text: Informant: NAMKIA of Impao (Zemi).
text: 31/5/40
text: Discussing above with Namkia, Gumtuing of Nenglo and Laisong Matai, it appeared that the lovers leapt into a pool and not off a cliff, but otherwise the story was the same till the end, when the flowers came up crooked (crossed) because the lovers went in independently and not side by side. (The discussion was vigorously illustrated by Gumtuing preparing to leap into a forest pool with his arm round Namkia's shoulders). Nobody could remember the song-maker's name.