The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

manuscript notes on the Zemi Nagas by Ursula Graham Bower

caption: feasts of merit
caption: Kamarum-ki
medium: notes
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1939-1946
refnum: Betts papers, ring binder 1
person: Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
text: Kamarum-Ki.
text: The giver of this Feast of Merit must announce his intentions after the harvest has been reaped. Work on the house is carried out during the cold weather, and the final feast is celebrated about March or April.
text: The house is built by the villagers, and, like the Kabui equivalent, it is built on the same plan as a morung irrespective of whether it is to be used as one or not. If it is only a private house sleeping-benches and other morung fittings are not put in and the large front room serves the same purposes as the porch of an ordinary house, pounding-tables, firewood, pigs, hens, and other odds and ends being kept there. If the owner's father or other relative sleeps there instead of in the back room, then a fireplace and bed are put in for him.
text: When the three large posts for the front of the house are cut the feast-giver must provide zu for the workers and send it out to them in the jungle, and when they go to cut the thatching grass for the roof he must send them both food and drink and make the occasion a general feast, a dog or pig being killed for meat. The workers take plenty of intervals for refreshments, and make sure there is no scamping the zu.
text: The main front post (katsia-ngdi) is a single tree-trunk, and is sometimes trimmed smaller when it is too heavy to carry but is always left in the round. The posts on either side of it (hing-ba) are made from one tree split into two halves. The main roof- beam (kasum-di) is a single piece of wood ten to twelve inches in diameter and fifty to sixty feet long, or longer, and it runs the whole length of the building except for the small back porch, which has a separate roof-beam. When the kasum-di is carried in the feast-giver must again provide zu.
text: The feast-giver's house and its back porch are built first, but if the building is a morung the bucks, who have been sleeping in the porches of other houses, sleep in the morung as soon as its first outlines are complete, lest the 'hangseoki-'ga, the house spirit of the morung, think the place deserted and go away taking all their luck with it.
text: When the feast-giver's house is ready he and his family move in, bringing water, banana-leaves for plates and cups, and fire from a morung. They cook and eat a good meal in the new house. Often a dog is killed, for the workers must be feasted. The meat is shared out in equal portions on leaf plates by two men who act as cooks, and a portion is given to each man. All the workers eat rice from a common dish or dishes and meat from their own helpings, each man taking home with him whatever of his portion he has not consumed. Unmarried or childless men, however, give what meat they do not want to other men for their children. Similarly, married men may take their unconsumed zu home with them, but bucks take it to their own morungs and give it to any friends or old men they may find there.
text: The following day the feast-giver's family must remain in the village an the house is genna, though the inmates may speak to strangers. Odd jobs may be done about the house, but firewood is not carried. If the feast-giver's dreams were bad that night, he and his family rise fasting and go out very early with all the cooking-pots, plates, jappas, water-chungas and other movables, wait for a little, and return after the sun is up.
text: When the whole house is ready except for the trimming of the thatch and the front wall (which is added later), the real feast begins. A large pig is killed in the morning, or if a large pig is unobtainable, a small one is killed as a sacrifice and a mithan killed for meat, and omens are taken from the pig's spleen - I am assured it is the spleen and not the liver - and if they are not good another pig is killed, and so on until good results are obtained. The spleen is skewered up on the inner wall of the front room and left there to decay.
text: Next a ceremony is performed at the front post. The feast-giver and his family have risen fasting, and summoned an old man who knows the procedure. He takes sliced ginger mixed with salt, thick zao kasang which has been set aside in a small lauki, the plants tingkung, mpwoa-tsing and two others, and the right-hand half of a plantain leaf. The plants are laid at the foot of the katsia-ngdi, and the old man, generally with several other elders who wish to learn the ceremony watching him, lays the ginger and salt on a plate made of the plantain-leaf and draws it up to the foot of the post and makes a leaf cup and pours the zao kasang there, all with appropriate words. The leaf cup from which the zu was poured is dropped at the foot of the post and any remaining zu is poured out there and not drunk. The old man says: "Having built a big house, a high house, now that the house is ready I am making offerings. People will not be ill, they will not be injured. Children will be many as the young of fish. There will be rice in plenty; though the seed fall in stony places it will sprout and be good; the mithan will have many calves; if there are goats, their young will be as many and as white as the seeds of cotton (a reference to the sowing of cotton; when the uncleaned seeds are scattered in the fields, they "make the fields look white"), pigs will be as many as wild pig; if they keep dogs they will be as many as wild dog; if they keep hens, they will be as many as the birds; they will plant kachu, maize, gourds, ginger and pumpkins in their fields and they will sprout and grow well. Having asked and taken these things of the spirits, now, before we have eaten, we are giving salt, ginger and zu to the spirits. Our house is making a feast. Although they eat and drink their fill there will be no shortage".
text: This ceremony over, the feast-giver and his family may eat their morning meal. The old man eats with them, and if he likes, may take home with him his unfinished helping of zu. The men of the village then gather at the house and are feasted on rice, meat and zu. They they get up on a scaffolding under the eaves of the porch and cut the untrimmed thatch with sickles, zu being handed up to them in mithan horns slung on the end of poles; two assistants are employed in handling and filling. When the cutting is finished the men go round among the assembled guests, the first pouring salt into each man's mouth with a slip of plantain leaf and the second pouring a cupful of zu after it. (This had the most emetic effects at Impoi; the 'waiter' was much to lavish with the salt). Feasting continues for the rest of the day, rice being cooked by the women in the feast-giver's house and two men cooking the meat in big dishes in the dekachang. The pig's head is hung from a beam and the young men jump to see who can catch hold of it and hang on. As usual, the winner must give money to whichever old man catches hold of him and praises him.
text: After the evening meal singing begins, first 'the man's song' and then 'the woman's song'. The singing must be led by two men who know the songs perfectly, as they are "spirits' songs" and may not be treated disrespectfully by singing them badly or on any by the proper occasions; indeed, they may only be taught in actual preparation for a feast of merit. The names of the feast- giver and his wife are used in them. The singers go outside the house and approach it from a distance, the two leaders walking a little in front and giving the first word or two of each line, after which the others join in with the remainder. When the two most important songs have been sung others appropriate to the occasion are performed, and with intervals for rest and drinking, singing may continue most of the night. The women gather in the feast-giver's house and also sing. It is not done to go to sleep at all that night.
text: For good fortune, rain should not fall during the ceremony at the front post, and the sun should be shining during the ho-hoing.
text: The following day the feast-giver provides zu for the whole village and for any visitors there may be. It is most important that supplies should not run short, and to lessen the expense a little for him all guests have brought something, usually a gourd of zu, as a contribution. On this day only the old men and women and the men who have been cooking for the feast eat in the feast- giver's house. Drinking continues till the evening, and the feast is then over.
text: After an interval of two years the feaster may give notice that he intends to perform Kamarum-ki again, and do so in the third year (i.e., six months after giving notice) or go on to perform Kapeo-ki, if he can afford it, but no one seems to be able to do so nowadays.