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: There was a very old woman whom Asa and Munsarung looked after; and when she was ill, Asa sent Munsarung to the fields and stayed at home, and cooked rice for her till it was nice and soft, let it cool, and fed it to her with a spoon. One day Asa said: "I'm going to the fields today; you stay at home and look after our grandmother. Cook rice till it is quite soft, let it cool, and feed her that."
text: Munsarung boiled the rice till it was soft, but without waiting for it to cool he took up a spoonful of it and told the old woman to open her mouth, and when she did to he popped in the scalding hot rice, and she died on the spot. When he saw this, Munsarung carried her off with her basket and a couple of bits of firewood and put her down in a neighbour's sugar-cane patch, and ate plenty of the cane himself and scattered the debris all round the old woman's body. Then he went back to the house and sat there.
text: When Asa came home from the fields and asked: "How is our grandmother? Is she better?" Munsarung answered: "Yes, she's much better. She's gone to fetch firewood, but she hasn't come back yet."
text: "We must go and find her," said Asa. "Something must have happened." Off they went and searched. Munsarung, of course, knew perfectly well where to look, and going there, he called Asa, and said: "Here she is - look, she was gathering firewood, here's a bit. She was eating sugar-cane on the sly - look at the pieces! - and the owner caught her and killed her!"
text: Off they went to the owner's house and accused him of killing their grandmother, and Asa at the front door and Munsarung at the back threw a pestle to and fro through the house with such violence that the man begged for mercy and offered a mithan as compensation. Off they went with the mithan and the old woman's body, which they put over the fire and smoked thoroughly.
text: Asa asked Munsarung: "Which half of the mithan do your want, the head or the tail?"
text: "I'll have the tail'" said Munsarung.
text: A little later a man came to say: "Asa, Munsarung, your mithan has left dung in someone else's field. Come and clear it up!"
text: "Which end did it come from?" asked Asa.
text: "The tail end," said the man.
text: "Munsarung, you go and clear it up!" said Asa.
text: Munsarung came home very tired and disgusted, and Asa agreed to change ends with him, Munsarung taking the head and Asa the tail. Before very long along came a man to say: "Asa, Munsarung, your mithan has calved!"
text: "Which end did the calf come from?" asked Asa.
text: "The tail end," said the man.
text: "Ah, then it's mine!" said Asa.
text: After a while they sold their mithan, and then made a jappa, and taking the smoked body of the old woman, they tied bells on it and took it away to sell. They called it Sunging, and everywhere they went they asked people to buy Sunging, and shook the jappa so that the bells jangled, and said: "There, Sunging is inside, and it's a fine thing. Buy it!"
text: At last they found a customer, and he agreed to buy Sunging and give them a white mithan in exchange.
text: "Don't open the jappa for five days," they said. "If you do, it will run back after us, but after five days it won't be able to. When you open the jappa, put panjis in the ground all round it, and when you loosen the string a little and Sunging shakes inside the jappa, do you call 'Sunging' all the time." And off they went with their mithan.
text: On the fifth day the man who had bought the jappa put a belt of panjis on the ground all round it, and began to open the jappa. The old woman's body was tightly doubled up inside, and when the lid was raised it began to straighten out; and the man thought Sunging was moving and called: "Sunging, Sunging!" all the time as he lifted the lid. When he lifted it right off the body shot straight up and gave him such a fright that he fell over backwards on the panjis and was killed.