The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

manuscript notes on the Zemi Nagas by Ursula Graham Bower

caption: drums
medium: notes
location: Insarangbaram Kampai Asalu Chota Nenglo Narim Bangla (Nrembanglo) Hasonghaju (Hasanhaju)
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1939-1946
refnum: Betts papers, ring binder 1
person: Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
text: Drums are invariably kept in the morung and not in private houses. They are generally made by the young men, but if they do not happen to be skilled at it they are assisted by older men who are. The body of the drum is made of the wood called 'mbe-tsing' (tsing: wood), the same wood from which plates and zu-vats are carved. There are said to be two varieties of this tree, very similar to the eye, but differing in tone when used for drums, one kind giving much more resonance than the other; the better sort has slightly smaller leaves.
text: The drum-heads are identical, and either end may be beaten. They are made of goat- or deer-skin, which is not tanned in any way but merely dried with the hair on. When required for use is is soaked in water for five or six hours and is then pliable enough to stretch over the drum.
text: The method of fixing it is as follows. The skin is first placed over the end of the drum, and then a ring of cane, made to fix tightly, is slipped over it. The loose lower edge of the skin is then folded up over the ring, so that the edge is towards the head of the drum; a second cane ring is then put on, and the loose skin folded down again, towards the body of the drum. The other drum-head is put on in the same way and then the two heads are laced together with cane rope, the cane rings holding the skin firmly and allowing considerable tension.
text: A drum is generally small enough to be carried and beaten by one man, who holds it slung on a rope over his shoulder and beats it with a stick with a padded head. The most common size is about two and a half to three feet long and eighteen or twenty inches across the head. Some villages, however, own very large drums; specimens measuring four feet across the head are not unknown, though the labour entailed in producing these monsters is out of all proportion to the results, for their note does not carry so far as that of a well-made medium sized drum, and - like the smaller ones - they have to be hollowed by hand out of a section of solid tree-trunk. There is one very large drum in Insarangbaram (Chota Haflong) and another in Kampai, but the latter village has so shrunk through the departure of Christian converts that there are hardly enough men left to beat the giant.
text: Besides providing music for dancing, the drums are used for calling the villagers together in an emergency, and occasionally for signalling to other villages - usually by pre-arangement. On hearing the drums in daylight, and beaten with an irregular rhythm quite distinct from the measured dance-beats, every villager, wherever he or she may be, instantly stops work and hurries home. In the old days this call often meant a raid, but nowadays it is only used when the village catches fire or some other crisis necessitates summoning all the villagers. As it is only used in real emergency, it is forbidden to touch the drum while the workers are in the fields, and the old men left behind mount guard over the drums lest the small boys play with them.
text: The drums can be heard for some distance. Asalu and Chota Nenglo can hear each other's drums on a still night, the villages being some six miles apart as the crow flies, but a full day's march on foot. Those of the nearer villages of Nrembanglo and Hasanhaju can easily be heard in Asalu.