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: MunsarungAsanpeoAsanpui
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1940-1944
person: Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
refnum: box II file 2
text: II
text: Kamaileng's sons were Munsarung and Asanpeo. Munsarung lived alone, but Asanpeo was married, and his wife bore him a son. The child did nothing but cry.
text: "Look!" said Asanpeo, showing his wife the fontanelle in the child's head. "Are you mad, bearing a child with all this water and matter in its head?" He pierced the skin with a thorn an the brains all came out and the child died.
text: "There," said Asanpeo. "Now it's sleeping properly," and he put it on the bed.
text: After a while, when the child did not wake, his wife went in to look and found it quite cold and she cried out against her husband and abused him for being so stupid.
text: "What's to be done?" said he. "If it's dead we must bury it." He wrapped the body up in a mat and put in a cloth and everything for the burial, but in carrying it out of the house the baby fell out in the doorway, and he and his wife never noticed and went on and buried the mat and everything else without realising that they were empty. When they got home, there was the baby's body in the doorway.
text: "What!" said Asanpeo. "My child had died, and here's another child must come and die in my house!" and he stamped on the child's head.
text: Asanpeo's wife went home to see her brothers, and they gave her tripe to take home with her. She took it back and cooked it for her husband, and when he tasted it and found it was meat he asked her where she got it.
text: "Oh", she said. "When a mithan is defaecating I put my hand up its vent and take hold of the entrails and pull hard."
text: Asanpeo liked the tripe very much, and later thought he would have some more; so when a mithan was defaecating he thrust his arm right up its vent, but could not get it out again, and off went the mithan into the jungle, dragging him behind it. He shouted for his wife to come and help him and when she came she called to him as loudly as she could to catch hold of a tree, which at last he managed to do and so freed his arm, but he was badly scratched and bruised from being pulled through the jungle.
text: Later his wife said to him: "Other people put their hand to the jungle and catch birds and other things to eat. You don't do that at all, so how can you get good things to eat?" Asanpeo went off to the fields and pushed his hand in underneath a heap of rubbish there, and the red ants bit him fiercely and he came home complaining, with a very sore arm.
text: "What has happened?" said his wife.
text: "Oh, you told me to put my hand to the jungle, and I did, and the ants bit me!" said he.
text: "Where did you put it?" she asked.
text: "I put it under the rubbish-heap in the fields," he said.
text: "Oh, you fool, I meant that you were to put your hand to making traps and to bait them with fruit, and so on!" said she.
text: Asanpeo went and set a trap as she told him and caught numbers of birds, but did not take them home to her. Instead, he told her to give him plenty of rice for his midday meal and cooked them and ate them all in the fields with the rice and came home in the evening without anything at all. At last his wife said to him: "Nowadays there is a lot of fighting and raiding going on. Do you be careful when you go to the fields. Leave a trail of rice husks along the path as you go, and then if there is a raid I can run after you and find you."
text: The next day he went off, and about midday his wife took a shield and spear and followed the trail of rice husks to the field. Asanpeo had caught a large number of birds and had singed them and cooked them and was sitting down very comfortably with his kilt off, prepared to have a good feast. His wife began to shout and screech and brandish the spear, and Asanpeo looked up and cried: "Oh, dear, Asanpui was right!" and ran away as hard as he could, leaving his lunch and all his clothes behind. His wife took up his clothes and all the lunch he had cooked for himself and went home with them.
text: Asanpeo came panting home through the jungle and arrived very tired and out of breath.
text: "Eat some food, " said his wife. "What has happened?"
text: "Oh, you were quite right!" said Asanpeo. "There's a lot of raiding going on now! I was attacked by numbers of men, and I only just escaped with my life!"
text: Asanpeo began to eat his supper, and then looked up and saw his kilt hanging up.
text: "That looks like my kilt," he thought, and he asked his wife where she got it.
text: "My brothers gave it to me", she said.
text: "And where did you get these birds?" he asked.
text: "My brothers gave them to me", she said.
text: Asanpeo kept on looking at the kilt and thinking it looked rather like his. At last his wife said: "Which do you like best, eating in the fields or eating properly here in the house? Is your supper good, or isn't it?" Asanpeo had to admit that it was, and she gave him his kilt back again.
text: Another day she said to him: "Other people go and fetch frogs, but you never do."
text: "Very well, then," he said, and went off with a big basket. The other people caught the frogs and bit their heads to kill them before putting them in their baskets, but Asanpeo thought they were smelling them and merely smelt his and dropped it into the basket, whereupon it hopped out again.
text: "What!" said he, and caught it and smelt it and dropped it in all over again, and out it went once more. This went on over and over again and to the last Asanpeo only caught the one frog.
text: His wife had caught some, and on the way home he called to her: "Wait a minute, I'll put mine in your basket." He turned his basket upside down, but only one frog fell out. He was just going to crush it when it hopped right on his wife's face.
text: "Don't move!" he cried with great excitement, and struck hard at the frog with his stick, but the frog hopped and he broke all his wife's teeth. The frog landed on her knee, and crying out: "Don't move, don't move!" he caught her a tremendous blow there also.
text: One day his wife said to him: "We have no cooking-pots. Go and get some".
text: Off he went and brought back a whole load, but they were heavy and awkward to carry, so he made a hole through the bottom of each and strung them all on a spear and carried them over his shoulder like that. When he reached home his wife cried out and said: "What are you doing? How am I going to cook in those? and scolded him.
text: Another day his wife told him to buy a mithan. When he was half- way home with it the mithan defaecated, and Asanpeo said: "It's got a hole in it! When I bought the cooking pots Asanpui told me they were no good because they had holes in them. I had better sell this mithan again, it's no good"
text: He went on his way and met a man making a rice-bin. Asanpeo said: "Here, take my mithan and give me the rice-bin."
text: "Do you mean it?" said the man.
text: "Yes, yes," said Asanpeo. "Finish off the bin and exchange it for my mithan."
text: The man was delighted and finished the bin and exchanged it for the mithan, and gave Asanpeo a handful of salt as well. Off went Asanpeo, carrying the basket, and came to a river in spate. When he was fording it the rush of water carried away the basket and all his clothes and belongings.
text: "What!" he said. "My rice-bin and clothes have gone, then my spear and dao can go too!" And he threw them all after his clothes and the bin, and had nothing left but the salt.
text: "What's the use of taking that home? " he said, and lifting up a stone, he hid the packet of salt underneath.
text: The next day he went back to find the salt, but on lifting up the stone he found only a crab, so he took that home with him. When he reached his house he put the crab down on the floor and let it run. It scuttled straight up his wife's skirt and nipped her private parts.
text: "Oh, oh!" she cried. "It hurts! Quick, bite off its claws and kill it!"
text: Asanpeo went to do as she said, but the crab seized his lip with its other claw and held him fast.
text: "Oh, oh, dear, it hurts!" cried his wife.
text: "What are you complaining for?" said Asanpeo. "You're only being hurt, I'm being hurt and suffering a smell as well!"
text: Another day Asanpeo went out into the jungle, and growing very tired, lay down to sleep on the top of a high hill.
text: "I shall die," he said. "I shall die!"
text: Lying there in the wind and the cool air he began to feel very cold, and putting up a hand to his ear he found it as cold as ice.
text: "Ah, I'm dead," he said, and went on lying there.
text: A thorny creeper was swinging about in the wind and flicked across his ear, scratching it so painfully that he sat up with a yell.
text: "There now!" he said. "I was dead, an that creeper has brought me back to life again!"
text: He took the creeper back to the village with him, and when he got there he saw a mithan tied up outside a house and asked what it was for. The people told him that a man in the house was dying and the mithan was there ready for the funeral celebrations.
text: "If I can bring him to life again, will you give me the mithan?" said Asanpeo.
text: "Oh, yes," said they.
text: "Very well, then none of you must stay in the house when I go in," said Asanpeo, and he turned them all out and went in and scratched the dying man's ear with the creeper as hard as he could; but the man died. Asanpeo went out again and told the relatives: "It was much too late, he was too far gone, and I couldn't do anything," and they were very angry and abused him roundly.
text: Asanpeo went home to his wife and said: "I want to die. When people die, they bury them with pork and beef and zu and all sorts of good things to eat."
text: "If you want to die, please do," said his wife. Then Asanpeo dug a grave and killed a pig and cooked it and made everything ready and got into the grave, and had himself buried in there. There he sat eating the pork and was very happy until the meat was finished, and then he began to feel very hungry and unhappy indeed. His wife brought zu and kachu and sat on top of the grave cooking the kachu and eating and drinking.
text: "Oh, Asanpeo!" she said. "How are you getting on down there? You used to like eating kachu and drinking zu."
text: "Let me out, let me out!" cried Asanpeo. "It's horrible down here, and I've nothing to eat! I finished it all long ago!"
text: After a while his wife let him out, and said: "You wanted to be dead and said it was so pleasant and that people gave you good things to eat, and now you say you don't like it and you want to come out!"
text: These two went on like this for many years, and at last they died.