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: letters from Ursula Graham Bower
caption: description of servants
medium: lettersnotes
person: Luikai/ of Nungbi KhunaoAbungSaknio/ of UkhrulChinaorang/ of Nungbi Khunao
location: Chingjaroi
date: 30.3.1939
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1937-1946
person: private collection
text: 30.3.39 Jessami
text: My dear Pat,
text: You must be wondering what the dickens I'm doing here after announcing I was sailing on March 11th. Well, I'm writing this 50 miles beyond Ukhrul, which is 43 miles by the bridle-road from Imphal; and if I care to wait till daylight and go up to the village, I can look straight over the river into unadministered territory and the Upper Chindwin on one side, and the Naga Hills proper on the other; and I expect you can guess what brought me back.
text: Things were so bad at Chingjaroi, the big village where I made my long halt last trip, that I sent a runner ahead with a wire to the P & O, postponed my passage till April 29th, grabbed a clean skirt and some more medicines and went straight back again to Ukhrul, and even further yet. On my first trip I collected a jolly little Tangkhul boy from Nungbi Khunao as a coolie, but he proved so intelligent that I promoted him to pani-wallah, and thence, as we got him clean, to camp servant. Now he is fairly invaluable, does bearer, Khitmatgar, interpreter, dresser, assistant compounder and camera-coolie, and all this from a raw Naga youth of 22! He yearns for a uniform, but I have given him new Naga cloths and kept him strictly Tangkhul, even to the haircut. It is easier to see if he is clean. He was helping me dress a cut leg in the village the other day when an Angami addressed him respectfully as "Babu". I have seldom seen a Naga blush, but Luikai did then.
text: He is a muscular little devil, an athlete in his way, a keen wrestler, a good singer and a mimic, and he enlivens our camp life a lot. I don't know whether you've ever seen a Tangkhul in the flesh, though you have in my photos; they wear a remarkably scanty loincloth and a fine red and black bodycloth, and cut their hair like a stiff cockscomb, or a Glengarry worn straight. Luikai combines modesty with efficiency by kilting his bodycloth round him like a petticoat when working, but the result, though eminently suited for camp, was a bit startling when I took him down to Imphal, and made my host's respectable Mussalman servants cluck a bit. Nevertheless, Luikai profited by his visit, and we have since been regaled with sound-imitations of the wireless, the refrigerator, my host playing golf and giving orders, my singing (which he sprang on us half-way to Ching-ngai, so that I had to sit down in the road to laugh), the bearer, and several more. Luikai's account of how he was made to serve dinner is worth hearing, too. He had never been in a bungalow before; and to see him, a real jungle Naga, serving the fish among the silver and polish of my host's respectable dining-room, was a real vision.
text: The other mainstay of the establishment is a Kabui Naga who looks as if he'd been dug out of a burrow, being small, dark and furry. When we collected Luikai as chokra and dogsbody, Abung (nicknamed the Wombat) took him under his wing, and Luikai promptly nicknamed him Dada, and now no one calls him anything else. There is a youth from Ukhrul, Saknio, pani-wallah, mali to my collection of orchids, and general odd-job boy; Saknio's elder brother, and two more Tangkhul coolies; two Kukis, Lord knows whence or why; and last, but not least, Chinaorang from Luikai's village, a long, skinny Tangkhul with a perpetually surprised expression for which the doings of his memsahib are probably responsible. He carries the medicine thappu (or jappa) and acts as Assistant Assistant - that is, keeps the crowd back, stops the locals spitting down my neck, runs errands, packs and unpacks, rolls bandages, holds electric torches for me, and has just been christened the Mate-Babu. There is also a Kuki compounder who is a "thorn in the flesh, and a rankling fire" but I can't get on without him.