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: Then the king saw how Namutan had got the better of him,and sent to challenge him to a cock-fight, saying that he whose bird lost should be killed. The king ordered his servants to feed his bird with the best food that could be had, and plenty of it, and it became huge and strong; but Namutan only gave his less than its fill and little more than would keep it just alive, and he used to wave a leopard-cat's skin over the cock's cage so that it fled this way and that way, and so used did it get to the skin that it was afraid of nothing.
text: Then the king ordered Namutan to come to the cock-fight on the fifth day. On the day appointed the king and all his servants came with the king's fighting-cock and all those of the servants, all of them big, strong, and well-fed; and Namutan brought his small bird, whose beak and claws he tipped with iron. At first the king's bird did nothing but peck at Namutan's, and then the smaller bird turned on the big one and tore its throat out with its iron-tipped beak and claws, and the king's bird died. The same thing happened with all the others with which it was matched, till at last it had killed all the fighting-cocks of the king's servants as well as those of their master.
text: "A king cannot go back on his word," said Namutan. "His order is an order. You decreed that whose cock lost the fight should be killed."
text: "Ah, you are my son and I your father," said the king. "How can I kill you or you me?"
text: Later on, since matters could not be decided by the cock-fight, the king sent and challenged Namutan again, this time to a fight between dogs. As before, the king took the biggest and strongest dog he could find and fed it the best of food, while Namutan kept a small dog and fed it just so much and no more, and took a tiger-skin and waved it at the dog, which ran this way and that, and so used did it get to the big tiger-skin that it was not afraid of even the largest dog.
text: The king fixed a day for the fight, and brought his big and well-fed dog, and Namutan his smaller one, whose teeth and claws he had tipped with iron. When the fight began the king's dog rushed on Namutan's and knocked it down, but Namutan's dog bit the king's dog in the throat and killed it, and so with all the king's servants dogs which were sent against it.
text: "A king's order is an order," said Namutan. "Last time you went back on it, but this time I will not give up. You gave the order, and this time it shall be so, that the loser shall be killed."
text: "Oh, no, no," said the king. "That was just words. You are my son and I your father; how can I kill you, or your me?"
text: Then the king sent for all his servants and told them: "A month from now Namutan will be buried alive. Go now and dig a grave."
text: They went and dug as he had told them, and Namutan, hearing of the king's intention, went to the place.
text: "You have not dug it well," he said. "Since this is the place where I am to die, I shall go down and prepare it myself." Then he went down into the grave with his dao and dug away there, making a secret tunnel.
text: Then he said: " If I am to die, then I must have food and drink and a dao and rice and all things for my journey." And he told his wife to fill a laoki with the black seeds called maigitsi (a plant whose leaves are edible; cultivated) as food for the journey.
text: The king's servants brought a heavy tree-trunk with which to ram down the earth on top of Namutan. When all was ready, Namutan took the rice, the seeds, his dao and all that he had asked for, and said: "Now I am ready to go. When I call out, do you throw in the earth and pound it down."
text: Then he went down into the grave and put down the laoki of seeds with his cloth over it, like a body, while he himself crawled away up his tunnel and shouted: "Now!" The king's servants threw down some earth on top of what they thought was Namutan's body and brought down the great tree-trunk as hard as they could, crushing the laoki and the seeds. The juice stained the end of the great ram as red as blood and they all cried out: "Ah, Namutan's dead, he's dead!" and flung in the rest of the earth till they had filled in the whole grave.
text: Namutan went on digging his tunnel and at last came out in the open, and five days later he was safely home. One of the neighbours came in and saw him and ran off to tell the king, who would not believe the story and said: "Nonsense! Namutan's dead!"
text: "No, no, he's there in his house," said the man.
text: "No, that's lies!" said the kin. "He's dead!"
text: However, the man insisted that Namutan was really there, and at last the king gave orders to call him. The king's servants went to the house and said: "Namutan, the king summons you."
text: "Very well," said Namutan, and he ate and drank and went before the king.
text: "Oh king," said Namutan. "Why have you called me here?"
text: "Oh - nothing at all," said the king. "I heard you had returned, and I wished to speak to you. What is the land of the dead like?"
text: "Oh, wonderful!" said Namutan. "I'm going back there, and it's such a fine place I'm going to take my wife and children with me. I came back to fetch them. We don't know you as king there."
text: "I shall go there too!" said the king. "Dig a grave for me, and I shall get in and be killed as you were."
text: "I shall go first," said Namutan.
text: "No, no, no!" said the king. "You have been there before. You must let me go first!"
text: Then the king's servants dug a grave as they had done for Namutan, and Namutan said: "I should very much like to go first, as I am very anxious to get back there, but the king wishes to go first, and one must obey the king's orders."
text: The king went down into the grave and sat with his cloth over him, and his servants threw down some earth on him as they had done on Namutan, and then brought down the great ram on him as they had done on Namutan's gourd and killed him instantly.