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 and Munsarung' - myth
medium: notes
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1940-1944
person: Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
refnum: box II file 2
text: After about a month they once more found that they had nothing to eat, so Asa fixed a tuft of red goat's-hair on himself like a tail and went off again to the monkeys' village. When they saw him all the monkey children cried out: "Oh, look what sort of tail out grandfather's got! We want tails like that too!"
text: "Bring the iron rods your mothers use for seeding cotton," said Asa. "And come along with me, and I'll give you tails like mine."
text: When they reached the jungle he made a basket and screened the mouth of it with leaves; and then he made a forge and bellows and heated up the irons till they were red-hot, and taking one young monkey after another he thrust the hot iron up its fundament and dropped it into the basket.
text: "There!" he said, as they kicked and struggled. "See how happy they are!" When he had killed all the monkeys, he took up the basket and went off home.
text: When he reached his house he sent someone to fetch Ngaongpeo, and when Munsarung came he told him to singe and cook the monkeys.
text: "Asi Asa, how did you get them?" asked Munsarung.
text: "Cook and eat," said Asa. "I'll tell you later."
text: When Munsarung had got as far as cutting the meat up, he asked again.
text: "Oh, cook and eat!" said Asa. "I'll tell you later".
text: No sooner had Munsarung put the meat into the cooking-pot than he asked again, and Asa gave him the same answer. When the meat was cooked and Munsarung had eaten a mouthful or two he asked again.
text: "Well, when there was a 'na' I fixed a tail of red hair on myself," said Asa. "And I went off to the monkeys' village; and when all the children wanted to have a tail like mine, I told them to fetch their mothers' iron 'nyek'. "
text: "Oh, I see, I see!" cried Munsarung without waiting for any more, and off he ran to do likewise.
text: When he arrived in the monkeys' village with a tuft of red hair fixed on him as a tail, all the little monkeys wanted to have one like it; so he told them to fetch their mothers' iron 'nyek' (the rods used for seeding cotton by the old-fashioned method are ordinarily wooden) and come along with him. When they reached the jungle Munsarung made a basket, but did not hide the mouth as Asa had done.
text: "What's the basket for?" asked the monkeys.
text: "To carry you in!" said Munsarung.
text: Then he made a forge and heated up the irons.
text: "What are you heating the irons for?" they asked.
text: "To put in you fundaments!" said Munsarung.
text: When the irons were hot he told one monkey to jump up on the basket, and then thrust the hot iron up its fundament so that it tumbled into the basket and died.
text: "There, it's dead!" said Munsarung, and hearing this, all the other monkeys ran off as hard as they could.
text: Munsarung took his one dead money and went back home, and when he reached his house he told a boy to go and find Asa and call him to come and singe and cook the monkey.
text: "How many did he bring?" asked Asa.
text: "Only one," said the boy.
text: "If there's only one, it may come to life again and run off." said Asa, and the boy went back and told Munsarung. Asa came along quietly and slipped a stick through a crack in the wall so that the end was under the monkey, and then gave the stick a jerk so that the monkey's body jerked too.
text: "My brother was right, it's come alive again!" said Munsarung, and hacked at it with his dao, and cut it about so badly that it was not worth keeping and he threw it away.
text: Presently in came Asa and asked for the monkey that he had been asked to skin and cook.
text: "It came to life again and was going to run away," said Munsarung. "It ran from here to there, and I cut it down with my dao, but it was so cut about it wasn't worth keeping and I threw it away."
text: After this Munsarung went off to the jungle and wandered about, killing barking-deer and sambhar with his charm Didi, and after some time he thought that as he had not seen his elder brother Asa for a long while he would go and see how he was. When he reached home the two of them sat there for a while, and then Asa said: "Ah, there's nothing to eat in the house, I'll go and find something," and went off. It was the time of year when the thatching-grass flowers, and he took some of the white flowers and went and lay down as if he were dead by the main path of the monkey village, and put grass-flowers on his eyes and face and private parts to look like maggots. Along came the monkeys and found him there.
text: "Our grandfather's dead!" they cried, and carried him off to his village.
text: On the way they passed a patch of thorny scrub.
text: "Let's see if he's really dead or not," said they, and dropped him into the thorns; but he never moved, although he was full of prickles. Then they picked him up again and went on. Next they came to a patch of jungle nettle.
text: "Let's see if he's really dead or not," said they, and dropped him into the nettles. "If he's not dead, they he'll surely wriggle." But Asa never even quivered.
text: When they reached Asa's house with him, they said to his wife and family: "Our grandfather is dead, and we have come carrying him. What are his wishes for his funeral?"
text: "Oh, I don't think he wanted anything much," said Asa's wife. whom he had instructed beforehand. "Except that the house should be made absolutely dark, without a chink of light showing, and that his spear and dao should be made nice and sharp and put by the bed with a bundle of ashes for him to clean them with, just loosely done up with one string."
text: So the monkeys did as she said and stopped up every chink, and laid Asa out on the bed with his spear and dao and the bundle of ashes; and they all formed a line by the bed, the young ones first and the old ones afterwards, and one of them asked: "Who will marry Asa's wife?" And they all answered, one after the other: "I will," and last of the lot, the oldest said: "I will. I am the last!"
text: "Who's talking of marrying Asa's wife?" said Asa, and sprang up, and snatching up the bundles of ashes, he scattered them right and left into the monkeys' eyes and blinded them, and then attacked them with his spear and dao and killed them all, for they had stopped up every crack and there was no way out.
text: They Asa sent a boy to fetch Ngaongpeo and tell him to come and prepare the monkeys; and when Munsarung came and saw them he said: "Oh, Asi Asa, how did you get them?"
text: "Singe them, and I'll tell you later," said Asa.
text: When they were singed Munsarung asked again, and again Asa told him to wait, and when they were cut up he asked again and got the same answer, and when they were cooking he asked again, and when at last they were cooked and he had eaten a mouthful or two he asked again, and Asa said: "Oh, I went and lay down by the side of the path as if I were dead, and put thatching-grass flowers on my eyes and face and private parts to look like maggots, and the monkeys came along and carried me home - "
text: "I see, I see!" cried Munsarung, and ran off straightaway to do the same himself.
text: He lay down by the path and put cut flowers on himself as Asa had done, and presently along came the monkeys on their way to fetch food from the jungle, and saw him.
text: "Our grandfather's dead!" they cried, and picking him up, they carried him along. When they came to the patch of thorny scrub they said: "Let's see if he's really dead," and tumbled him into the thorns.
text: "Oh, ah, alala!" said Munsarung as the thorns went into him.
text: "Ah, he's not quite dead yet," said they, and carried him on to the jungle-nettle and tumbled him into that.
text: "Ah! Alala!" cried poor Munsarung.
text: They picked him up and carried him on to his house, and said to his wife: "Our grandfather is dead and we have come carrying him. How does he want things arranged for his funeral?"
text: "Just make the house nice and light and sunny," said Munsarung's wife. "Cut a few windows in the walls and let plenty of light in, and blunt his dao and spear and put them by him, and some ashes for him to clean them with, but tie the ashes up nicely and firmly with five or six strings so that the bundle won't come undone on the journey."
text: So the monkeys did as she told them, and laid Munsarung out on the bed with blunt weapons and a tight bundle of ashes, and they formed a line with the youngest in front and the eldest at the back, and one of them asked: "Who will marry Munsarung's wife?"
text: They all said one after another: "I will!" and last of all, the old one at the end of the line said: "I will! I am the last!"
text: "Who's talking of marrying Munsarung's wife?" said Munsarung, and up he leapt, and grabbing the bundle of ashes, he tried to shake it loose, but it was much too tightly tied and wouldn't open. Then he snatched up his dao and spear and tried to cut the monkeys down, but they all leapt out of the newly-cut windows, and the only one he managed to kill was an old blind one which couldn't find a way out in time.
text: "One by itself's no use," said Munsarung. "It'll only come to life again as it did last time." And he threw it away.
text: After this Munsarung went wandering again, and when after a while he came back to see how Asa was getting on, Asa has married a monkey-girl. Munsarung met her as she was going to fetch water.
text: "Where's my brother Asa gone?" he asked.
text: "Bung-bung-bag-bak!" said she.
text: "Is this river deep or shallow?" he asked.
text: "Chuk-chuk la-la!" said she, meaning that it was deep in some places and shallow in others, but Munsarung could make neither head nor tail of this, and losing patience with her, he said:
text: "Didi!" and she fell down and died.
text: Munsarung went on and presently came to Asa's house, and Asa asked him whether he had seen anyone on the road.
text: "No, no one," said Munsarung.
text: "You must have seen someone," insisted Asa.
text: "Well, yes, I did meet a monkey woman on the road, and asked her where you had gone," said Munsarung. "And all she said was 'Bung- bung bag-bak'. Then I asked her whether the river was deep or shallow, and she said: 'Chuk-chuk la-la,' and I lost patience with her said 'Didi' and she fell down and died."
text: "Oh, dear!" said Asa. "She was my wife, and she has any number of relations; when they hear she's dead, they will most certainly make war on us."
text: Then Asa said: "We will call them and tell them. Will you stand at the front of the house, or at the back?"
text: "I'll stand at the front," said Munsarung.
text: "Then I'll stand at the back," said Asa. He proclaimed to all the monkeys: " All you monkeys who live by the Barak, come, we have killed your sister! Come in five days!"
text: On the fifth day the monkeys all came, every one that lived in the country round about the Barak, and the sound of their coming was like the wind and rain of a great storm. Munsarung stood at the front of the house and kept on saying 'Didi, didi, didi' and Asa stood at the back and said 'Engtueng, engtueng, engtueng,' and they kept on till all the monkeys were dead. Then, to decide who had killed the most, they agreed to cut the monkeys' throats and he who cut the most should had killed the most. Munsarung went on sawing away at the throats while Asa nicked the dead monkeys' ears, and by the time Munsarung had marked a few there were none left for him to take, for Asa had marked all the others.
text: "Your Didi's no good," said Asa. "Look how many more my Engtueng killed."
text: "We'll change them over," said Munsarung, and so they exchanged their charms.