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: slaves
medium: notes
person: Haichangnang/ of AsaluSogang/ of AsaluImaba/ of Asalu
ethnicgroup: Zemi
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1937-1946
person: private collection
text: Slaves among the Zemi were probably not numerous. They might be Zemi themselves, either men who had sold themselves to get food and clothing or people of other tribes who had been captured in war or kidnapped and sold; these were often Lyengmi. As it was believed that to overwork or ill-treat a slave meant that his owner's descendants would become poor and that the family would die out, treatment seems generally to have been good; as to ensure that evil consequences did not follow, a slave had to be treated as one of the family and clothed, worked and fed to the same standard.
text: Imaba, an ancestor of Sogang of Asalu, once owned a slave whom he sent to live in the field hut and watch in the fields. The man was very anxious not to miss the feast of Nkamni, and asked his Imaba to tell him when it would be. When it came round Imaba neither recalled nor told the man, but went to the field with rice for him, and 'turkarki' which included a frog's leg. Later on the man asked again when Nkamgi would be, and Imaba told him it was over, and had been on the day when he came bringing the frog's leg. The slave was so bitterly disappointed he wept. Imaba was a rich man, but because of his illtreatment of his slave, his descendants became gradually poorer and sank to the level of the ordinary villagers.
text: One of the ancestors of Haichangnang of Asalu was a wealthy man living in Impoi, and certain orphans from Baladhan and Shongkai came to the house and offered themselves as slaves in the hope of being at least fed and housed, and presented him with hga - 'luck-stones' - which instead of carrying in, they rolled into the house along the ground. The Impoi man accepted the stones, but was afraid of the consequences for his family if he kept slaves and should inadvertently ill-treat them, so he fed the orphans and sent them home with food for the journey and many courteous expressions. The luck-stones are still in the family's possession.
text: The Angamis frequently carried off Zemi as slaves, either taking them back to the Angami country or selling them to the northern Zemi, who sold them back to their relatives at a profit. Women and children were preferred, but men and youths were occasionally taken. Bound, hobbled and usually load down with spoil from the raided village, they had no chance of escape on the road, but a few of the men are said to have managed to get away from their owner's houses later on. If they came from well- to-do families their relatives, as soon as they found out where the missing were, formed a party and went well supplied with necklaces and conch-shells to ransom them. Neighbouring villages contributed two or three reliable men, good arguers, to the party. Conch-shells were such a necessary feature of the ransom that all households which could afford it kept one handy in case of need, and are said sometimes to do so still. As for the poor, they had no hope of ransom, and remained as slaves. Only old and worn-out slaves in bad hands were sold or turned out, the kindlier looking after theirs as though they were members of the family. Girl-slaves could marry, but only to the poor; no man of good family would marry a slave. Sale of children by creditors to pay debts did not occur. Voluntary debt-slavery, i.e. working off a debt, seems to have been far the commonest variety.