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: witchcraft at Jessami
medium: lettersnotes
ethnicgroup: Khizami
location: Jessami
date: 30.3.1939
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1937-1946
person: private collection
text: We had a spot of bother on arriving here from Kharasom. Both Chingjaroi and Kharasom are more or less Tangkhul, but Jessami is Khizami or Eastern Angami, and the only one of its kind in Manipur. Anyway, the Chingjaroi and Kharasom men told my seven that Jessami was notorious for jadoo and put spells and poison in their zu, so that any strangers drinking it died on the road. I didn't know this; and though I noticed my men were a bit odd the night we arrived I put it down to the long march. Next day Abung sprang it on me that they were all terrified of the jadoo and would not go into the village or touch the rice-beer given us. I called Luikai and told him there was no jadoo. He said instantly: "Hai!" and called me up to the village gate above the perao; and there was an egg in a bamboo holder with a thread round and a piece of one of my boric lint dressings on top. All my seven gathered as if by magic, literally pop-eyed with fright; an Angami crowd collected, and you could tell by the silence there was something up. I didn't know whether to laugh or be angry, and eventually did both. My men were convinced it was jadoo against me, and the lint looked very suspicious, but I couldn't be sure that it wasn't "white" magic, a sick man's charm to get well, and it was possible that he'd put on a bit of my lint as an extra bit of magic. Eventually I burned the lint, or partially, in spirits of wine, and took the egg and basket to the gaonbura. I could tell by the consternation and general state he was in that something was up; but he denied black magic strenuously at the time, though he has since told the compounder that it actually was jadoo against us. However, I harangued my men in very bad Hindustani, and I have since seen them drinking zu, though they say they will only do it if I am there as a disinfectant! The gaonbura seemed very upset. Black magic against a memsahib is a nasty blot on the village record, and he swears he wants to find the culprit. I bet they have a pretty good idea who it is. I expect the local practitioner objected to a rival establishment. Actually the Eastern Angamis do use poisons, and have a bad reputation with the Semas, miles to the north; though with my people, some of it is probably tradition left over from the old days when a Tangkhul in Jessami country seldom took his head back with him.