The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

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

caption: 'Asa' - myth
medium: notes
keywords: PupibangraKamailengHerantsaipeoAraipeoMunsarungAsanpeoTsiuperai
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1940-1944
person: Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
refnum: box II file 2
text: ASA
text: Pupibangra was a spirit and lived in the sky. He had neither head nor feet and no one could say what his shape was, for he had none. His son was Kamaileng. His second son was Herantsaipeo and after him Araipeo. Kamaileng's sons were Munsarung and Asanpeo. Araipeo's son was Namutan.
text: Kamaileng was also known as Herakandingpeo, and he was very clever. Tsiuperai disguised himself as a poor boy and came to him many times and asked: "How will you die?" Kamaileng answered: "I shall never die." Tsiuperai asked him every day. The spirits hated Kamaileng because he knew everything and could heal broken legs and bad wounds and save those who were about to die, and so the spirits had nothing to eat. At last Kamaileng said: "I shall only die if I go to a stream and a dui-rui (wagtail) wounds me."
text: When he learned this Tsiuperai went away. He called all the spirits together and they held council to decide who should kill Kamaileng. Tsiuperai told them, and said: "He will only die from this, so one of us must turn himself into a dui-rui and go and wound him, and then he will die."
text: None of them would go, so Tsiuperai turned himself into a bird and went to the stream where Kamaileng had a fishing-weir and traps. He went to the mouth of the trap and stayed there, almost going in and dodging out again, until Kamaileng noticed him and said: "What sort of bird it this, to want to be caught?" and seized him, meaning to take him home to his children. He had nowhere to put the bird so he tucked it into his belt, and Tsiuperai wounded him and flew away.
text: Then Kamaileng understood, and said: "Oh, that was no bird, that was a spirit; it has wounded me and I shall die." He went back to his village at once, and said: "I shall die. Fetch medicine."
text: The villagers went, and met spirits who had disguised themselves as people and were dancing and singing. The spirits said: "What have you come for?" The villagers told them, and the spirits said: "Your father is dead. Look, we have killed dogs and are singeing a pig for his funeral." So the villagers went back without fetching the medicine from the jungle.
text: When they returned Kamaileng said: "Have you brought it?" and they said: "No, we met people who told us you were dead, so we came back." Then Kamaileng sent others, but the same thing happened to them as to the first party and they too returned without the medicine. He sent others and still others, but they all returned empty-handed, until everyone in the village had been except one boy, and Kamaileng was unwilling to send him, because when he was dying, he said, he would teach him all his spells and all his knowledge; but there was no one else to send, so he sent him.
text: All the birds and animals in the world came and sat outside the house when they heard Kamaileng was dying, because they hoped to be able to hear something of his magic when he taught it to his family on his death-bed. He was dying, but the boy had not returned, so he taught his wisdom to the others, but they were so stupid they did not understand. Only the crow, who was sitting with his head pressed against the wall outside, heard one thing that Kamaileng said, and so to this day the crow knows the best medicine of all. For this reason, they say, the Nagas used to break the legs of young crows in the nest so that they could come later and take the wonderful medicine the parent bird would put on the legs to heal them. All the birds and animals called him "Apeo", but the goat had a long white beard and the ngupepu had a white head like an old man, and so they called him "Atsa".
text: "I am dying," said Kamaileng. "He to whom I should have taught everything has not yet come, and though I teach it all to you others you are so foolish you will never understand. I will put my spittle on this ginger, and whenever you are ill or meet with an evil spirit, ask the ginger for help. I will put my spittle also on this bamboo, and when you want to know, ask of it also." So saying, he died.
text: In the meantime the boy had gone to fetch the medicine and met the dancers and singers, and they asked him where he was going. He told them, and they said: "Your father is dead," but he answered: "Whether he is dead or not, I will fetch the medicine." He went and fetched it, but just as he reached the village with it, Kamaileng died.