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: marriage ceremony
medium: notes
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1939-1946
person: Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
text: As often as not the marriage is arranged by the young man's parents, and in any case they have a great deal to say in the choice of a bride. They look to their sons to provide for them in their old age, and whether they are well cared-for or not depends on their daughter-in-law; so that if they consider their son is making an unsuitable match they say so, and may refuse point- blank to pay for her, suggesting instead a girl of less personal attractions but more ability as a housekeeper. As they hold the purse-strings, they usually get their way.
text: Once a choice has been made the parents, or a relative, go to the girl's parents to ask whether they are agreeable to the match. If they are, then the girl is consulted. If she refuses, that is the end of the matter, and though her parents may try argument and persuasion, a girl is never married against her will, if only for the practical reason that if she finds the life unbearable and runs away her parents may have to refund the marriage price. If she is willing or merely does not mind the matter is settled and a date fixed for the discussion of the marriage price. (The minimum cash price is already fixed and must be paid on that day. The discussion relates to the "extras" - necklaces, mithan etc.)
text: The girl's parents prepare zu for the guests, and on the day appointed the boy's parents and relatives, the matais, and anyone else likely to be useful in the argument go to the girl's village. The party usually numbers five or six. There is a hot argument over the price, the girl's parents probably asking more if she is to go to another village, and the matter is at last resolved by some tactful person who persuades each side to modify its claim till a compromise is arrived at. Everybody is by now extremely thirsty, so the zu is brought out and all have a drink.
text: The next day two young men of the girl's village are sent to fetch the bridegroom, more drink is set ready for his arrival and a pig is killed. He arrives dressed in his best and is treated as an honoured guest; salt 'thirst-raiser' is offered him, he is lent the best cup to drink from, and his father-in-law presents him with a dance-cloth and a plain white cloth. He and the girl eat together from one dish.
text: By this time the price-fixing party have all gone home. The boy may stay on in his father-in-law's house for a month if he likes, but generally he fixed an earlier day for taking the girl to his home. While he remains he has the freedom of her parents' house, the girl, who is not his wife, making zu an cooking for him. She sleeps in her parents' house, as a rule either on the front porch or the back room, and her husband may sleep with her. Generally he starts the evening in the morung, and when the other boys are slipping out to the dekichang he goes to the girl's house, and having found out beforehand where her bed is - it would be very embarrassing to pick on his mother-in-law's in the dark - steals very quietly in, spends the night with her, and is away first thing in the morning. He is not obliged to spend all night with her, however, or any of it, and if he prefers to stay all night in the morung or carry on a love-affair in the dekichang he does so, though the last is hardly advertised.
text: At last the day comes when he takes his bride home. His parents are summoned, though his mother may or may not come. At any rate his father does, and with him two or three other relatives. The girl's parents kill a pig, or a mithan if they can afford it, and the meat is taken to the boy's house by the wedding party. The head is taken whole and raw; if the meat is to be taken to another village it is boiled to preserve it a little, but if the marriage is within the village it is properly cooked with salt and chillies. Zu is taken, but some is left for the girl's parents, so that they may call in their friends and have company to console them for the loss of their daughter.
text: First in the party go two young men carrying shields and spears. This was originally a necessary protection, but the custom is still kept up. Then come the two men who cooked the meat; they carry the raw mithan's head. The mithan's horns should properly be carried by the spearmen, but if they find they have enough as it is they give them to someone else to hold. A number of the bride's girl friends accompany her. They usually weep at losing her, and she weeps in return, whereupon they are rallied by anyone who feels like doing so and told that this is a wedding and no occasion for tears.
text: Near the boy's village the procession forms up properly. An old woman of the boy's village goes ahead to show the bride the way. Directly behind her comes the bride, carrying a basket with a gourd of good zu, a cloth for the boy's father, and chicken flesh done up in leaves. Fowls to the number of twelve or more are killed by her parents if they are rich enough, but she only carried the flesh of the largest and the rest is carried by her attendants. The groom follows behind the bride. If he married a girl of his own village he goes holding a chunga of rice-beer in his right hand, but if he brings his bride from another village he carries nothing except a spear, as it is impossible to carry the rice-beer several miles. Both he and the bride are in their best clothes and ornaments. If rain falls it is considered unlucky, so a wedding-party within the village waits for sunshine before leaving the bride's house.
text: Meantime word has gone ahead and the door of the boy's house has been opened. Iron of some kind, usually a dao or sickle, is put down inside the doorway; it must not me cracked or nicked, or bad luck will follow. The old woman steps on it with her right foot, to show the girl what she must do, and says something to this effect: "Iron is cold, iron is strongest of all, be like iron, let there be no illness". The bride and groom, following her, each step on the iron with their right foot. The old woman takes the dao away with her afterwards, as compensation for her trouble.
text: The basket which the bride carried is placed apart, and the inmates of the boy's house may eat from the contents, but not outsiders. Those who went to arrange the marriage-price are called to the house and shown the goods which the girl has brought with her. Women of the boy's clan who have married into other clans take the flesh of the best fowl and half the pork or mithan-meat. Those who arranged the price, whether of the boy's clan or not, are given a little of the meat in a leaf plate. Those of them who are his near relations may be given a slightly larger helping. In the evening the mithan's head is cooked and eaten from a common dish by those who fixed the marriage price, the boy's parents and relatives and the guests generally. The bride and groom eat together out of another dish. They are not debarred from eating from the common dish, but 'for shame' they eat from another. The rest of the wedding-party stay the night in the groom's village and go home next day, but the heavy drinkers may stay on two or three days if there is enough liquor. The young couple must stay five days in the boy's village. On the sixth day they visit the girl's parents, stop the night and return the next day. The girl's parents kill a pig, and the young couple take the meat home with them.