The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

typescript - Nzemi folk tales collected by Ursula Graham Bower, 1940-1944

caption: 'The Birth of the Spirits' - creation myth
medium: notes
keywords: BangklawongKatsingpeoTsiuperaiTingwong
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1940-1944
person: Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
refnum: box II file 2
text: First of all Bangklawong fell from heaven. There was no earth, only water, and on top of it was a wild taro leaf, onto which he fell. He said to himself: "If I am to be king, then my feet will not touch the water," but as he came down one foot touched the leaf and the other the water and he knew he would not be king for long.
text: He asked everything and everybody whether they could make land, but none of them could. At last he asked the King Worm, and the King Worm said he could.
text: "If I do, will you give me what I ask?" he said.
text: "What do you want?" asked Bangklawong.
text: "Every day a thousand shall die, and I shall eat their bodies," said the King Worm.
text: "If that happens, there will be no one left," said Bangklawong.
text: "Every day a thousand more will be born to take their places," answered the King Worm.
text: "Very well," said Bangklawong. "Then I will give you what you ask."
text: The King Worm went down to the bottom of the water and made worm casts until he had made all the earth, and the crow patted it flat and smooth, but by the time he came to do the hills he was too tired to flatten them properly, and that is why the plains are smooth and the hills are steep and full of cliffs. Then Tingwong told Bangklawong in a dream:
text: "If you do not want to live alone, then cut off two of your fingers, and one will become your wife and the other your sister."
text: So Bangklawong cut two of his fingers, and one became his wife and the other his sister. The sister was a very hard worker, and so quick and skilled that when she went to fetch wood or water she was back so soon that Bangklawong never had any privacy in which to enjoy his wife. At last he took a basketful of katsing seeds and spilled them in the grass, and told his sister that if she did not pick them all up even to the last one, he would take his dao and kill her, and he stuck his dao in the ground beside her and went back to his house.
text: The sister picked up the seeds so quickly that she returned, saying: "I have brought them all," when Bangklawong was having connection with his wife, and the sight so affected her that she cried out that she was going to lay an egg. Bangklawong told her to go to Tallaurok, at the source of the Barak, taking with her a dao, a plantain-tree and a huluk [a gibbon], and lay her eggs there. She went to Tallaurok, and there, by a cliff where there was a waterfall, she laid eight eggs, and then planted the plantain- trees, put the dao by it, and went away, leaving the huluk in the tree to keep watch.
text: Out of the first egg to hatch came Katsingpeo, and although his eyes were not yet open it seemed so bright outside that he was frightened and ducked down again inside his shell. The next to hatch was Tsiuperai, and he was not frightened, but stood up straight up and cried: "I am the first and the greatest!"
text: Hearing this, Katsingpeo came out again and said: "No, I hatched first, but I was frightened and hid again. I am the first and the greatest."
text: "No!" said Tsiuperai. "You were frightened and hid, whereas I stood straight up. I am the greatest."
text: Presently the other eggs hatched out, all except one. Tsiuperai said: "Our mother must have left us something." He felt about until he found the plantain-tree and its fruit. "Then there must be something else," he said, and felt about until he found the dao, and with that he cut down the tree and took the fruit. He gave the plantains out, one to each, but the huluk (gibbon) put its hand out each time and took the fruit.
text: "Now have you each had one?" he asked, but they one and all said they had not.
text: "I gave one to each," said Tsiuperai. "I will give them out again, and I will catch hold of each hand as I find it, and whoever it belongs to must say who he is." He began to give out the fruit again, and the first hand he found he caught and held, and called out: "Whose is this?" It was the huluk's hand, and all the spirits answered: "Not mine."
text: "Very well," said Tsiuperai. "Since it is none of ours, I'll cut it." He slashed at it with the dao, and the blood spurted up into his face and all at once his eyes opened and he could see. Then he took the blood and smeared it on the eyes of Katsingpeo and of all the others, and their eyes too opened.
text: They waited there a long time for the last egg to hatch, but it did not. "It must be addled," they said. "If it were good it would have hatched out long ago," and they rolled it down the bank into the river and went away to find their mother.
text: As they went along Tsiuperai and Katsingpeo did nothing but argue and quarrel as to which of them was the greater, and at last they agreed to throw pebbles across the Barak, and he whose stone reached the other side would be the greatest. Katsingpeo and all the others threw their stones, and they fell into the water before reaching the far side, but Tsiuperai picked up a beetle by mistake and threw that, and it zoomed off right across the river.
text: "There!" he said. "My stone has reached the far side, and I am the first and the greatest."
text: They went on their way, but Katsingpeo continued to argue, and presently, when they reached a smooth, grassy place, they agreed to throw stems of 'hpi' grass along the ground, and he whose shot went farthest should be the greatest. All the others threw without their stems going very far, but Tsiuperai, in hunting about for one to throw, took hold of a snake and threw that, and it shot off away beyond the others.
text: "There!" said Tsiuperai. "My stick has gone the farthest, and I am the first and the greatest."
text: Next they came to their mother's house, and changing themselves into crows, they perched in a nearby tree. Their mother came out and saw them, but when she counted them there were only seven.
text: "These cannot be my children," she thought. "For I laid eight eggs." And she went in again.
text: The seven spirits looked at her, and Tsiuperai said: "That must be our mother. Let us call out 'Mother' to her and see what happens."
text: "No, no!" cried all the others. "If we call out 'Mother' to her and she is not our mother, we shall feel ashamed."
text: While they perched there arguing about this, their mother came out several times and looked at them, and at last Tsiuperai said:
text: "Whatever you others do or don't do, I am going to call out 'Mother'." Then he called out to her: "Mother, we are your children."
text: "You cannot be my children," she answered. "For there are only seven of you, and I laid eight eggs."
text: "There were eight eggs," they said. "But the last one never hatched, so we thought it must be addled and pushed it down the bank into the river."
text: "Alas, my youngest child!" she cried. "Fools that you are, he would have been wiser and stronger and greater than any of you."
text: Then she asked them which was the eldest.
text: "I am," said Katsingpeo. "I hatched the first, and I am the foremost and the greatest."
text: "No, I am!" said Tsiuperai, and the two of them began quarrelling.
text: "I will show you which is the first and greatest," said their mother. "All of you stand here, and I will press out the milk from my breasts, and he to whom it goes first is the first and foremost."
text: They did as she told them, and she pressed out the milk from her breasts. First it went towards Katsingpeo, but turning from him, went straight to Tsiuperai's mouth, and after him back to Katsingpeo, and after him to all the others in order.
text: As for the egg which went into the Barak, it hatched, and out of it came the python.