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: 'How Men got Rice' - myth
medium: notes
person: RamgakpaNamkia
ethnicgroup: Zemi
date: 7.1940
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1937-1946
person: private collection
seealso: Hutton, 'Angami Nagas' p.269
text: Long, long ago the chief Spirit called all the first men together to arrange what they should eat. He sent them all into the jungle to bring everything they could find for him to try, to find out which was the best food for them. He tried everything they brought and none of them were suitable.
text: At last he said to the ZAOKATSI tree: "you must feed them."
text: "No," said the ZAOKATSI. "I can't do it, but if a man grows faint with hunger on the road, then he may eat my fruit and it will strengthen him so that he reaches home."
text: When the Spirit had tasted everything that they had brought and found nothing good enough, he sent them all to search again. One man found an ear of rice caught in the top of a tree, so he climbed up and fetched it and took it to the Spirit. The Spirit tasted it and it was very good.
text: "This is the best," he said. "I have tasted all the others and none of them were good enough, but this is the best and men must have it for food."
text: Then he sent everybody out to search far and wide to find some more rice, and at last they saw two ears growing right out in the middle of a big pool [called Sing-kalang-zai - "where all the rivers meet and make a pool - the biggest pool it there" (from Ramgakpa, Gobin) (Songalingzai in Asalu dialect)]. They went back and told the Spirit, and he called all the men and animals together, the birds and the pigs and every thing, and sent them all to the pool to get the rice.
text: When they got there they held a discussion as to who should fetch it, and they chose the wild pig. He swam out but failed to reach the rice. Then the monkey tried, but he failed, and after him the NIMNANAPUI bird, and the HAKAPUI, but they failed too, and so did the TAMAOPUI, the pigeon, and the NGAINAPUI, the swift. Lastly the Spirit called on the rat to try.
text: "Very well," said the rat. "Get me some leaves."
text: He put the leaves [kachu leaves according to Ramgakpa] one on top of the other till he had made a boat, and paddled out till he reached the rice. Then he bit off the heads and paddled back with them. [Ramgakpa says the Tamaopui and the Ngainapui got across the lake, and all the others fell in and were drowned.]
text: Then the Spirit said: "the pig tried to fetch the rice for men. so in the night, when the rice is ripe, he can come and eat in men's jhums. The monkey went too, so he can go and pull the men's maize when it ripens. You, NIMNANAPUI, can eat of the rice when it ripens, and you, HAKAPUI, and you, TAMAOPUI. You, NGAINAPUI, can build your nest in the man's house where it will be dry and there will be no wind to disturb you and you can chirp and twitter in the early morning. And you, rat, because you fetched the rice, you can eat in the men's fields, and you can go into their granaries and eat there, and into their houses and eat there."
text: Then all the birds and animals went away and only the men were left. The Spirit divided up the rice and gave two grains to the Kachari and two to the Kuki and two to all the others except the Naga, who only got one. The Spirit gave out grain again, and this time everyone had four except the Naga, who only had two.
text: "Very well," said the Spirit. "Although they have more than you, theirs will go more quickly; and though you have only a little, it will last you a long time. Before you plant the rice perform HELEINA and when it ripens perform KAPWOLENA, and your rice will be good."
text: He also asked them where they wanted to live, the Kachari, the Thado Kuki and the Naga, and all the others.
text: The Naga said: "I shall go and build a house in a hilly place, and live there," and off he went.
text: The Kachari said: "I shall go and live down below, near the nullah," and off he went.
text: The Thado Kuki said: "I shall go and live in a steep, rough, rocky place, and I shall build a machan and live on that," and off he went.
text: (N.I., July 1940).
text: F.C.