The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

manuscript notes on the Zemi Nagas by Ursula Graham Bower

caption: marriage and relations between the sexes
caption: premarital relations
medium: notes
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1939-1946
person: Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
text: As has been said, girls go to the dekichang some time before the advent of puberty, and from puberty onwards it is open to any young man to court them, whether with the intention of marrying one or not. The girl is at liberty to admit a lover or not, as she likes; flirtation or a generous sort is undoubtedly very common, if not a general custom, but girls do not as a rule allow a suitor full privilages unless on promise of marriage or some such understanding, particularly if they are of good family. A scandal is very damaging to a girl's marriage chances, and parents give strict instructions in this respect. Girls of loose morals are well known and will never get a decent man to marry them. If a scandal should occur, the girl is ordered home at once by her parents and made to stay there, often sleeping on the same bed as her mother for closer surveillance.
text: These courtships are governed by the same rules of exogamy as formal marriage, and incest is punishable in the same way. If incestuous unions occur, they are kept strictly secret. Rape and attempted rape are punishable offences, and though the young people normally observe strict secrecy about their own and others' affairs, they are in duty bound to identify a raptor.
text: Pairs of lovers avoid one another in public and meet only secretly, if at all, during the day. On holidays, when the young people go off on an excursion, the same thing happens, each conversing only with those they are forbidden to marry. In the ordinary way, courtship takes place at night - generally in the small hours - in the dekichang, the girl admitting her lover to a place beside her on the communal bed, but a youth and a girl may manage to meet secretly and spend a day together in the jungle. it is forbidden to commit the sexual act in a granary; those rash enough to so so will suffer from aches and pains all over.
text: Ordinarily no man would have sexual relations with a girl not old enough for it, but in villages where the boys greatly outnumber the girls it may happen that a young man persuades a girl below the age of puberty to let him have connection. No punishment can be exacted if the girl was a consenting party.
text: Illegitimate children are uncommon. No contraceptives seem to be known, but women are said to know of a medicinal means, not a purgative, of producing abortion. This is only resorted to during the early stages of pregnancy. If the girl does not realise until too late that she is pregnant, no further measures are taken. If a girl bears a child and can prove that she has been faithful to one man only, she takes the child to him and affirms that it is his an no other's. If he agrees to marry her, well and good; if not, he must pay her the 'milk-price' of Rs 10/- or so for nursing the child until it is weaned, when he takes it. If he disputes paternity, the case comes up before the village elders.
text: Formerly, if the parentage was uncertain or could not be proved, the child was killed at birth, though it is said that this was only done if the mother consented. A certain Baladhan woman who left her husband and embarked on a career of free love kept one of her children whose father was unknown, brought it up and took it about with her on her travels. These illegitimate children are usually killed by an old woman who put a heavy stone on the child and stopped it breathing.
text: After marriage a girl must have nothing more to do with her former lovers an suitors. Those who have been lovers may not speak the other's personal name, any more than that of their own husband or wife, so use the polite term "Mother of so-and-so" or a circumlocution such as "so-and-so's son", if the former sweetheart is unmarried.