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: Asa built a big house by the main path between Nrambanglo and Hasanhajik, and called it Tazutki. By and by along came a party of the fair skinned Kaphumi [a "white people, not identified. The Kachari are said to call Europeans "Kaphumi". There was some discussion on this point, the Nagas asking whether Europeans had visited the district before the Sirkar came; they eventually decided the Kacharis were merely borrowing the old name] with loads of gold. They asked Asa if they could sleep in his house and at first he could not let them, and said that it was absolutely forbidden to defaecate in his house and he was afraid they might do so.
text: "No, no," said they. "Who's going to do that? We'll sleep here."
text: "Very well," said Asa. "But remember, it is absolutely forbidden, and if you do such a thing, I shall take your loads as compensation."
text: So they came into the house and settled down to sleep, and Asa took a red pumpkin and the mash left over from zu-brewing nd cooked them up together, and one or two of the Kaphumi who were still awake asked him what it was for.
text: "For the pigs," said Asa.
text: When the mess was cool and the Kaphumi were all asleep, Asa stealthily put a little of the mixture under each man's tail-end, and in the morning he woke first and roused the Kaphumi. When the first got up, down dropped the mess Asa had put there, and the same happened to all the others.
text: "What's that?" exclaimed Asa, and stared, and the Kaphumi looked at each other in shame and dismay.
text: "I told you that if you defaecated in my house I would take all your loads as compensation," said Asa. "Now you have done it, and you must give your loads up to me." The Kaphumi were completely deceived by the trick and could find nothing to say, so they gave up their loads of gold and went away.
text: Asa took the gold and decorated his house with it, so that it shone golden all over. Along came Munsarung, and asked Asa how he came by it.
text: "Oh, the Kaphumi came along with loads of gold," said Asa. "And when they asked if they might sleep in my house, I told them they could provided they didn't defaecate there, and that if they did I would take all their loads as compensation. When they were asleep I took a mixture of rice mash and pumpkin - "
text: "I see, I see!" cried Munsarung, and off he ran to do likewise. He built a big house by the side of the road, and presently along came a party of Kaphumi with their loads and wanted to sleep there. Munsarung would not at first agree, but later on consented, provided that they did not defaecate there.
text: "Now why should we do that?" they said. "No, no, you need not worry."
text: "Very well, but remember it is absolutely forbidden to defaecate here," said Munsarung. "And if you do, I will take all your loads as compensation."
text: "Agreed," said they, and settled down for the night in his house. Munsarung took a red pumpkin and sat there cooking it up with rice-mash, and one of the Kaphumi asked him what it was for.
text: "When you're all asleep, I'll take it and put it under your tail-ends," said Munsarung.
text: The Kaphumi were so alarmed at this that none of them went to sleep at all, but nothing daunted, Munsarung took a large spoonful of the mash and clapped it scalding hot on the buttocks of the nearest Kaphumi. He leapt up with a load yell of pain, and all the others sprang up and siezed hold of Munsarung.
text: "Your brother played this trick on us," said they. "He took all our loads,and now you're doing it too!" Well, we'll take you!|" And they bound Munsarung and took him along with them.
text: Poor Munsarung cried out: "Oh, someone tell my brother the Kaphumi have tied me up and are taking me away!"
text: When Asa heard the news he hurried off to the nullah and caught as many large fish as he could and put them in two laokis; and then he ran ahead by a short cut and put the two laokis high up in a nrembang tree by a resting-place at the top of a steep stretch of path. This done, he ran back again and came out on the path behind the Kaphumi, and hurried after them, begging them to stop and let him talk to Munsarung, saying: "My younger brother is a fool, and you may take him for a slave, even though he is my brother; but stop and let me speak to him!" When they came to the shady and convenient spot by the nrembang tree the Kaphumi agreed and sat down to rest, and Asa sat down by Munsarung. He looked up at the tree and said: "Last year there were a lot of fish in this tree. I wonder if there are any now?"
text: "What, fish?" said the Kaphumi. "Nonsense! Fish live in the river, not in trees."
text: "I don't know that there are any now," said Asa. "But there certainly were last year, and I caught a lot. I'll go up and see, and if there are any fish, I'll take my brother back again and all your loads as well, but if there are none, then you may take me for a slave as well as my brother."
text: "Agreed!" said they, and Asa climbed up the tree.
text: The Kaphumi laughed and looked at one another and said: "We'll have him for a slave, too!" Munsarung, who was sitting bound and very miserable at the foot of the tree, looked up and said: "Brother Asa, they say they're going to tie you up and take you away too!"
text: Asa scrambled out on the limb where he had left the first laoki, and calling: "Only a few this year!" threw down the fish out of that. Then he came down the tree, and said: 'We agreed that if there were no fish, you should take me as a slave, and if there were fish, that I should take your loads and have my brother back again. There are fish, so I shall take my brother and all your loads as well."
text: "Yes, we said so," said the Kaphumi, and put down their loads and went away, and Asa told Munsarung to pick them up and carry them, and back home they went, Munsarung carrying all the loads together.