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
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1940-1944
person: Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
refnum: box II file 2
text: Namutan set off for the Goat-People's village. They were great magicians, and all along the road they had put magic and spells so that anyone coming along would die, but Namutan went very carefully and reached the village, which was a thing no one had ever done before.
text: He asked the Goat-People where their headman's house was, and they pointed it out to him. He went there, and the headman offered him a stool to sit on, but he had put magic on it and so Namutan could not sit but remained standing. He thought for a minute and then made magic and the headman's two daughters, who were pounding rice in the porch immediately began to fight with their pestles. The headman ran out to stop the commotion and Namutan quickly changed over the headman's stool and the one they had given him and sat down on the headman's stool.
text: "Very well," said the headman. "Let us eat." He set down a dish between them, but while his side of the dish was all right, Namutan's side was poisoned. Namutan saw this and thought for a minute and made magic and set all the mithan-skulls which were hung up in the house to rattling and fighting among themselves. The headman ran to look and Namutan quickly turned the dish round and when the headman came back he was eating away at the headman's helping and the headman just stood there, because his own magic on the stool stopped him from sitting down and he dared not touch the poison.
text: Then the headman set out two cups of zu, one for himself and one for Namutan, and Namutan's was poisoned. Namutan sat there wondering what to do, because the headman was watching him and showing no signs of being enticed away this time; and then he noticed the headman's little boy was playing about at the back of the house, and by magic he made a tiger spring out at the child. The child shrieked and the tiger roared, and the headman rushed to the back of the house to save his son and Namutan quickly changed the cups over.
text: Then the Goat-People took Namutan to the jungle and showed him numbers of images they had made out of mud to look like mithan, and said: "These are all your father's mithan; the one we took from him has sired all these and now there are hundreds of them. Yes, it's certainly time you took them back."
text: Namutan was not deceived by their magic and saying: "What kind of mithan is this?" he kicked one and it crumbled into the mud it really was.
text: Then the Goat-People took Namutan to where the real mithan were, and said: "Take them all." Namutan said: "No, I am alone, and I can't take them all. I will take one, just as you did from my father."
text: Then he chose one bull mithan, but by magic he put all the others inside it and then led it away towards his own village. The Goat-People watched him go off with the one mithan, but when they went to look in the jungle there were no mithan left.
text: "What's happened?" they said. "He went off with only the one, but they have all disappeared."
text: The headman went by a short cut and sat down on a big rock and waited for Namutan to come along.
text: "Oh, Namutan!" he said. "You are going, but you shall go away blind!"
text: "Though I am blind," said Namutan, "I can hold on to my mithan's tail and follow it home, but as for you, you shall sit on that stone like a stone forever."
text: Then Namutan went on, blind, because of the headman's magic, and holding on to the mithan's tail, but the headman found himself sitting on top of the rock and quite unable to get off it. When he had tried for a long time and failed to free himself, he shouted: "Oh, Namutan!"
text: "Hoi!" answered Namutan, a long way off.
text: "Namutan, your eyes shall open, and you shall go on as before!"
text: "And you shall get off your rock and move about as before!" called Namutan, and so they each took the spell off the other and went their separate ways.
text: Namutan reached his village safely and for a long while lived by selling the mithan which he had brought away hidden inside the bull. One day he went to claim the marriage-price of his father's sister. When he reached her house the woman and her husband were away, and only their daughter was there.
text: "Where are your parents?" he asked the girl, but she would not tell him.
text: "If you tell me, I will forgo the marriage-price," he said, so she told him: "My mother has gone to sieve water and my father has gone to open the door of the wind's house".
text: Although she spoke in riddles, Namutan understood that her mother had gone to catch fish with a basket and her father had gone to fetch bamboos to make a fan, and he thought he would like to marry the girl, since she was so clever; but he went away without saying anything.