The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

manuscript notes taken by Ursula Graham Bower

caption: Zemi legends concerning Siemi
medium: notes
keywords: deo-moni
person: Zhekuingba/ of Laisong
location: Guilong Maibong
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1939-1946
refnum: Betts papers, folder 6
person: Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
text: Zemi legend attributes all these sites to the Siemi, a people described as "small and black", who are believed to have made the valuable golden-yellow beads called 'deo-moni' from the "Gareo" bamboo by a process involving the use of fire; and to their refusal to disclose this secret process is ascribed their persecution and destruction by the Kacharis. Tradition conflicts as to when they vanished from the hills; one story relates that they had gone when the Zemi entered the area and that only their deserted villages remained, and another that survivors lingered on at Hange after the Zemi immigration and even intermarried with the Naga colonists. The story of their hunting-down varies very little, but one version tells that one day when the Siemi in their village at Guilong were making beads the smoke from the fires attracted the attention of the Kachari king in his capital at Maibong, an he sent men into the hills to find out what fires these were; and when he heard, from the captured Siemi, he demanded the secret. Another version is given here, as told by Zhekuingba of Laisong:
text: "They say that a Zemi youth married a Siemi girl and asked her to teach him how to make the beads. She did so, but did not teach him how to make the hole for the string to go through, so that when he returned to his own village and made beads for himself, he found he could not do it. The Kachari King sent for him and asked him whether he could make the beads, and he said that he could, except for the hold. Then the King said: 'They have not taught you properly. I will capture them and force them to teach you the whole process'.
text: "The King ordered the Siemi whom he captured to reveal the secret, but they could not. Then the King had a metal pot heated red-hot and put it on the head of one of the Siemi, until his head burst; but he did not tell the secret. The King said to the others: 'Now speak, or I will do this to you'. But they each clamoured to suffer first, and all died in this way without telling what they knew. Then the remaining Siemi moved their villages from place to place for fear of the King, and at last fled the country, going no one knows where".
text: Naga legend also credits the Siemi with magic powers. They had, it is said, no need to fell jungle to clear for cultivation; they had only to sing a magic song and the big trees would burst into flame and the underbrush burn of itself, leaving the ground bare. Then, too, they could split stones; a large boulder by the Laisong-Hajaichak bridle-path has a vertical cleft a foot wide through it, and this is pointed out as Siemi handiwork. They are said to have buried their dead inside such split stones, closing them again after so as to hide all trace. Another story has it that they could call stones together by incantations and bring them flying through the air to conceal a grave. A large expanse of rocks and boulders near Site 6 was pointed out to me as concealing a Siemi grave. Siemi notables are believed to have had a "chunga" of beads supplied for grave-goods by every house in the village, so that their graves were magically hidden to avoid robbery. Down in the Jiri valley below Nenglo village is a well- known rock with an aperture which is believed to hold a Siemi hoard. Nagas of olden times are said to have fished up a few beads from it now and again, but any who did were so haunted in their dreams by a Siemi crying for his property, that they were glad to drop the beads back whence they came. Only one supposedly Siemi name has survived, that of the Thang-grung already mentioned.
text: There is a parallel Kachari tradition which may be briefly mentioned. It agrees that the Kacharis waged a war of extermination on this now-lost race, but says that the last survivors sheltered for some time in a cave in the hills near Haflong and were eventually tracked down and wiped out there.
text: A list of known and reported sites is appended.