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: burial customs.
medium: notes
ethnicgroup: Zemi
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1937-1946
person: private collection
text: When death is imminent those in the house raise a wailing and outcry, while one of them closes the eyes and mouth. Others, who have been feeling the pulse and holding legs, head etc. straighten the limbs as soon as death occurs. The young men of both dekachangs come to the house with soap-vine and take turns in watching until morning. The body is washed with Naga soap and warm water and dressed in good clothes and ornaments and laid on cloths on the bed and covered in other cloths, to be included in the grave-goods. Men's hair is cut and trimmed. The face is covered. Two leaf cups are made and one placed above the bed. Ginger and salt are put in it by a relative, preferably an old man and zu poured in, the offerer saying: "Here is ginger, eat, here is zu, drink," or other appropriate words. A fowl and a chick are killed and the chick hung up by the legs over the bed. The chick's cheeping will guide the dead man along the road where it is dark. The fowl is cooked and offered with rice to the dead at intervals until morning, when what is left is gathered together and buried with the grave-goods, the head, thighs and feet being kept for this purpose, and together with what else remains and some rice they are put in the basket, with the words: " Your friends, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and grandparents will come out to meet you on the road. Do you eat this with them."
text: In the morning a pig and sometimes mithan is killed (a mithan is killed by an old man or the tingkhupeo and the liver, ears, tip of the nose and portions of the four feet (toes in the case of dogs, equivalent parts in pig and mithan). The mithan then accompanies the dead man. The flesh is cooked and eaten by the mourners and villagers. Two bones usually jawbones from the pig are included in the grave-goods, as the dead man will be pursued by the spirit which has caused his death; he throws the bones behind him and the spirit will stop to gnaw at them and the dead man can get away. In the morning the young men go to the jungle to make a coffin, which is carved out of one solid piece of wood, and narrower at the foot than the head, and has a lid carved from the other half of the tree-trunk (i.e., the trunk is split unevenly, the bigger part for the coffin, the other for the lid.) The grave is dug outside the house at any suitable spot - chosen by the relatives - lying so that the dead man faces away from the house where he lived. Body and cloths are put in the coffin, which is tied with creeper. In the case of a man, his spear is laid by the coffin, his dao near the head and his shield on top of it. A basket with the fowl and rice, laokis of zao kasang and husked rice, bottles of rice-beer, the bones and portions of the sacrificial beast, cups, plates and any personal possessions (including spinning and weaving implements in the case of a woman ) is put by the head of the coffin. "Kodali", hoe, and sickle are put by the side of the coffin. The grave has a hollow excavated at the side, into which the coffin is put, while the main shaft is filled in with earth. The exit of the coffin from the house is marked by piercing lamentations, and preceded by armed men shrieking with rage and stabbing and slashing at the ground with spear and dao in a fury with the spirit which has caused the death. After the funeral all the food and drink and the chick offered are thrown away.At every meal part of the food must be given to the dead in the cup and plate set aside for the purpose.The living may drink from it, but at meal-times the cup must be washed and set out fresh. After a little while the dead is presumed to have eaten, some is thrown away and the living consume the rest. These offerings continue till the following Hgangi. The father or nearest relative must refrain from wearing necklaces or fine clothes and from cutting his hair during this period. This duty can be passed to another relative if the father is prevented (i.e. by being in service; my dakwalla merely refrained from wearing his necklaces, his cousin Miroteung going into mourning in his stead) from doing so.
text: Shortly before Hgangi and the separation of the dead from the living, gravestones are carried in from the jungle and put down over the grave probably with a ceremony, which seems unknown to younger men. Stones are sunk in the ground over the grave and left with a little of the surface showing in the middle and a raised ring of earth all round and over them, and left to weather out to the surface through erosion.
text: If a mithan or buffalo is killed for the dead, the village must refrain from fieldwork on the day of the funeral. After the first death of the year (i.e. first after Hgangi) Kamlatna must be observed, including 2 day's abstention (l preliminary, l na) from all work in field and village. The first death of the year does not receive offerings by the hearth for the rest of the year and nearest male relative does not go into mourning. In other cases, the relatives and young men only don't go to the fields, as they are engaged in the funeral ceremonies, also other friends who wish to attend.
text: Rain and violent wind are associated with the coming of spirits and hence with death.