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: Jessami without a Compounder; witchcraft incident
medium: lettersnotes
person: Jangsang
location: Jessami
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1937-1946
person: private collection
text: Jangsang the Demon King - I mean compounder - insisted on going to Imphal from Chingjaroi, so I went on to Jessami alone. Kharasom and Chingjaroi both belong to quite different tribes to Jessami. Kharasom being Tangkhul and Chingjaroi mixed Memi and Tangkhul, and both frightened my six Tangkhuls out of their wits by telling them awful tales of the poison Jessami put into their zu and the witchcraft they practised on strangers; so that the day after we arrived Abung reported to me that all six - Luikai, Chinaorang, Saknio, and three Ukhrul coolies - were paralytic with fright and refused to touch the Jessami rice-beer, which I was happily drinking. (It was a good variety.). Abung himself was not very happy. I started to talk to Luikai and tell him there was no jadoo, but he said instantly that there was, and led me to the village gate by the cookhouse, where was a small bamboo basket with an egg inside and a bit of boric lint from one of my dressings on top. All my seven gathered, their eyes popping, a Jessami crowd gathered from nowhere, as crowds do; there was rather an uncomfortable silence, and everybody waited to see what I would do; and I stood in the middle, not knowing in the least whether to laugh or be angry. Finally I did both, and harangued my party in very bad Hindustani, assuming them that jadoo was useless against memsahibs, miss-sahibs or sahibs, their staff and all that was theirs; that if it was jadoo, Jessami might as well save their eggs, and if it wasn't, there was nothing to worry about. The only trouble was that it might be a sick man's "magic" for getting well, and I didn't like to risk interfering with it; so I removed the lint, which I felt within my jurisdiction, and when the headman arrived I took up the basket and showed it to him. He was all consternation, so there evidently was something up. Then I handed him the basket, from which he first shied like a horse; at last he took it as if it was red-hot and thrust it at the nearest onlooker, who received it with horror and passed it to his neighbour, who handed it instantly to an unwilling small boy, by whom it was gingerly borne away to the headman's house.
text: I have since heard two "official" explanations from the headmen; one that it was a "sick man's magic", the other that it was to make the hens lay, but no one has yet explained the lint, unless it was to make the hens lay hygenic eggs.