The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

manuscript notes on the Zemi Nagas by Ursula Graham Bower

caption: beliefs with regard to animals
caption: killing a python
medium: notes
person: Zuingpeo
location: Asalu Impoi
date: 19391940
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1939-1946
refnum: Betts papers, ring binder 1
person: Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
text: Python.
text: To capture and cut off the head of a python brings honour to the name of whoever does it in the same way as killing of a jungle-cat, leopard or tiger. A python understands what is said to it, so that on seeing one a man will call out to it to wait, and say: "Everybody in the village wants to see you, men, women and children. Wait, and we will take you very carefully".
text: Whoever is going to be the first to catch hold of it puts a stick across the python behind its head and then catches hold of the neck with his hands. The others, three or four of them, take up the body, and off they go with the snake over their shoulders like a length of cable. The head is resting on the leader's shoulder, and the tail twisting about all over the last man's back and sides. Before they reach the village they make a patch of very soft, fine earth and draw the python across it; in the morning the catcher will go and look, and if he is going to kill a tiger there will be pug-marks, if a bear, bear-tracks, and so on, and if he is to be a successful lover, a girl's footprints.
text: When the snake is brought into the village it is allowed to slither about the dekachang at will. The man who is to kill it comes very quietly with a dao behind his back and with one blow - if he can - cuts off the head. If it is a "good" snake it will lie still at once, but if "bad" it will lash furiously. The tip of the tail is also cut off. The python I saw was still writhing slowly, although its head had been off for more than an hour.
text: If a python sees spears or daos or dogs it becomes furiously angry and hisses, so all three must be kept well away when taking a python alive; and for the same reason the man who kills it hides the dao as he approaches. A good python will lie fairly quiet while being carried, though it is slithering to and fro a little all the time. It leaves a horrible smell on the body and clothes of the carriers, and this persists for three or four days despite any amount of washing.
text: In the old days the old men could not only tell from the python's markings whether the creature itself were "good" or "bad", but could foretell the state of the crops, the weather and the fortune of the village in general. Now the art is forgotten, and even the old men can only read a little from the markings.
text: In 1939 an old man, Zuingpeo, of Impoi saw a python in the pathway and called to it to stop, which it immediately did; he looked at its markings and then told it to go, and it slid away - or so his fellow-villagers say.
text: In 1940 some bucks of the lower dekachang at Asalu carried in a large python, but I did not see it till about an hour later, when the head and the tip of the tail were off. It had been killed on the spot and the bloodstains and trails left when the body writhed were still visible. The youth who captured it was slim and not at all hefty. The party's arrival in the village was heralded by a special ho-hoing by which the rest of the village knew what they were carrying, but to my disappointment I was not told until too late to take photographs.
text: The python is believed to be able to pull down bridges and draw men into the water by magic, so that it can coil round them and kill them. To prevent this, men wear a fragment of the root of the plant, 'Gawang', attached to their earrings or some other convenient place, as the smell of it is believed to keep the python away.
text: The rainbow is believed to spring from the python's body.