The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

manuscript notes on the Zemi Nagas by Ursula Graham Bower

caption: divination: by ginger and pulse
medium: notes
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1939-1946
refnum: Betts papers, ring binder 1
person: Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
text: Divination.
text: 1. By ginger (Kebeo)
text: The diviner cuts a piece of fresh ginger in half and balances the halves cut side down on a dao. He then asks: "Does the sun rise in the east and set in the west?" and throws them from the dao. If they fall one with the cut side up and the other cut side down, that is, if the answer is "yes" - though the sign varies with different practitioners - he knows the answers to later questions will be true ones. He asks the same question two or three times, and if he twice gets and affirmative reply, he proceeds to the other questions, asking whether the sick man has been seized on by a spirit in the fields, the house, the jungle, the path etc. etc. Each question is asked two or three times, until two affirmative answers are received, and then it is known that that is the right answer. Then, in the same way, the diviner asks: "If he does such-and-such a ceremony, will he get well"? naming different ceremonies until he gets a double affirmative. He then advises the patient what ceremony is necessary, and it is duly carried out.
text: If he gets a negative answer to his test question he gives up for the day, as he knows the spirits are not listening, and it will be useless to continue.
text: The spirit particularly questioned and invoked by name is Hameokazapeo-hera, the spirit of the paddy, but he is not regarded as being of great importance.
text: The method of divination is known to almost everybody.
text: 2. By pulse.
text: The diviner in this case is one of the gifted (or ingenious) few, and after feeling the patient's pulse with his thumb he pronounces the cause of the sickness and the necessary ceremony.
text: Besides this, the pulse in illness is to some extent understood, and friends calling on a sick man feel his forehead and chest for temperature and then his pulse.
text: There is a legend that once upon a time the Sahibs were the servants of the Tingwong, who taught them everything he knew - hence their superiority in skill an invention - except divination by the pulse, which to this day the Zemi know and the Sahibs do not.