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: tigers
medium: notes
date: 7.1940
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1939-1946
refnum: Betts papers, ring binder 1
person: Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
text: Tigresses are believed not to suckle their cubs, but to "drop the milk on the ground" where the cubs find it and lick it up. If a man is lucky enough to find some he may gather it up (as apparently it does not sink into the soil) and sell it at a high price to the plainsmen, who prize it as a medicine.
text: If a man has lost many animals by a certain tiger, he may, if he knows how, put a spell on it to that it becomes foolish and wanders about the jungle roaring, when it can be followed up and killed. It was suggested that a tiger which was heard roaring in the jungle near Impoi in July, 1940, was so bewitched, as it was heard in broad daylight.
text: The Zemi also believe, as do the Kabui, that a tiger can imitate a barking-deer and lure a real dear towards it, and claim that they can distinguish the imitation from the real.
text: One informant agreed with the Kabui that a tiger can throw stones, and said that they scratch them up with their paws like a dog digging; but another man to whom this was mentioned ridiculed the idea.
text: The Zemi deny that any of them are were-tigers, but know the legend of the spring away to the east, whose waters turn the drinker into a tiger. They say that once a young man was worsted in a quarrel over a girl, and out of pique went to the spring and drank and instantly became a tiger. Were-tigers are known by their pug-marks, which show five toes instead of four. The Zemi agree with others in accusing the Mikirs of most undesirable relations with tigers, and say that they deliberately refrain from rescuing those carried off and allow their tigers to take their own friends and relatives.
text: The ordinary word for tiger, Hradi, may not be mentioned in the jungle or the tiger will hear and be angry and carry off the speaker. The expression 'Makao' (= something) is always used when speaking in the jungle. Both terms are used indifferently of tiger and panther.
text: When a tiger has killed a mithan and a party goes out to bring in the meat, those who compose it will not leave the village again once they return, or if they do, keep close to home and do not do to the fields or to the jungle. if they do they will very probably meet with the tiger, who will know them as the men who took his kill. Men who did not go to fetch the meat may go to the fields or jungle as they please, provided the whole village is not holding a 'na'. Asalu say that on one occasion when a party went out to fetch in a kill, one man (who survived until some twenty years ago) grew tired of sitting about in the village, and decided to go a short distance into the jungle to cut tying bamboos. As he worked away there, he saw the tiger stealing up on him, and even as he jumped up it sprang. He managed to spear it in the eye and it bounded off to a short distance, which time he went up the nearest tree, where he sat shouting for help at the top of his voice. Meantime the tiger came back and sat at the foot of the tree, licking its paw and wiping the injured eye like a cat washing its face, and looking up at the Naga with the good one.
text: After some time his yells were heard and a large armed party came shouting to the rescue, but the tiger sat at the foot of the tree till they were almost up to it, and only as the rescue-party arrived did it make off into the jungle. The rash wanderer was brought down from his tree and hustled off to the village, and ever since then Asalu have taken good care to observe the ancient custom.
text: Another Asalu story tells how a big bull mithan charged a tiger which was stalking the herd and pinned it up against a tree, crushing it to death. When the bull did not appear the villagers instituted a search, and after two days found the bull still jamming the tiger's carcase against the tree-trunk, though there were maggots in the wounds where the tiger had clawed him; every time his pressure relaxed a little, he took it for fresh life in his enemy and drove even harder against the tree.
text: Formerly tigers were more numerous than they are now, and were a very real terror. A party of men and women were once reaping in the fields when a tiger came prowling round and round the edge of the jungle in such an unpleasant fashion that they decided to abandon work for the day and go back to the safety of the village. As they filed along the narrow path home the tiger leapt out on the line, seized on a man and carried him off. The victim's wife, who was just behind him, threw down her load and caught hold of the tiger's tail, and rushed after it though the jungle, sawing at the tail so furiously with her sickle that she actually cut a piece of it and forced the tiger to drop her husband - too late to save his life, however; and the others, following, brought the woman and her husband's body back to the village.