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 made a handsome basket whose only opening was concealed and at the bottom; and he filled it with charcoal and went and sat by the path the Kaphumi used. Since it was very hot he sat there fanning himself with his cloth, and presently along came a party of Kaphumi and asked him what he was doing.
text: "I've bought a basketful of golden flowers and I'm carrying it home," said Asa.
text: "We buy gold," said they. "But we've never heard of golden flowers and would like to buy them."
text: "These are real golden flowers," said Asa. "Listen!" and he shook the basket so that the charcoal chinked. "What's your gold in comparison with my golden flowers? I can't tell how beautiful they are."
text: At that they offered to exchange their hundred loads for his one, but he would not hear of it.
text: "No," he said. "You have only plain gold, while I have golden flowers."
text: They pleaded and argued with him and at last he agreed and handed his basket over to them and took their hundred loads in exchange. When he reached home with his haul, he put the gold on his house as before, and it shone more brilliantly than ever. When the Kaphumi reached home with their treasure, they opened it and found nothing but a load of charcoal.
text: Along came Munsarung and found Asa's house looking still more splendid.
text: "Oh, Asi Asa!" said he. "How did you get all that?"
text: "I took a handsome basket and filled it with charcoal," said Asa. "And I sat down by the path where the Kaphumi come along, and fanned myself with my cloth; and along came a party of Kaphumi. 'What have you got there?' said they. 'A load of golden flowers,' said I. 'I've bought them and am taking them home.' "
text: "I see, I see!" cried Munsarung, and ran off to do likewise. He sat down and made a fine jappa, but instead of hiding the opening as Asa had done, he made it in the regular way at the top. Then he filled the basket with charcoal and went off and sat by the side of the road and fanned himself with his cloth, and presently along came a party of Kaphumi and asked him what he was carrying.
text: "A load of golden flowers," said Munsarung.
text: "Will you exchange them for our loads?" said they.
text: "No, your loads are just plain gold, they're no good," said Munsarung. "I have something really fine here."
text: At last they persuaded him, and exchanged their loads for his.
text: "Don't open it now," said Munsarung. "Wait till you get a little way up the road." When the Kaphumi had gone a little way they opened the basket and found nothing but charcoal inside, so back they ran along the path and overtook Munsarung and seized him.
text: "Your brother Asa played this trick yesterday, and today you're doing it!" they cried, and binding Munsarung fast, they took him away with them.
text: "Tell my brother Asa the Kaphumi have tied me up and taken me away!" cried Asa.
text: When Asa heard the news, he went to fetch the water of the pool in which a gourd will sink and a ladle float, and some of that earth which, when you spit pan-juice on it, immediately sprouts a betel-nut tree; both these things lie near the Kaphumi country. This took him some time, so that the Kaphumi went a long way with Munsarung. When he had collected the earth and the water, Asa came out on the road behind them and ran along after them, calling out: "Wait, wait, please!" At last they waited, and then all sat down together.
text: "Alas, my younger brother is a great fool!" said Asa. "I'll just sit and rest and chew a little pan." So he sat there chewing pan, and presently asked the Kaphumi: "Is it true that if you spit pan-juice on the earth of this place, a betel-tree sprouts up and flowers within the hour? That's the old legend."
text: "What? no, nonsense!" said the Kaphumi.
text: "Very well, if it's true," said Asa, "I'll take all your loads and my brother back as well, but if it's not true, they you can take me along with you too."
text: Then he slipped a handful of earth out of his bag, dropped it stealthily on the ground and spat on it, and out of the pan-juice there sprouted a betel-tree, leaves, flowers and all.
text: "That's not enough," said the Kaphumi. "If an iron ladle floats on water while a laoki sinks, then we'll take you as a slave too."
text: "Let it be so," said Asa.
text: When they came to the stream he quietly poured the magic water he had brought with him into the stream, and when they tried, the iron ladle floated and the laoki sank.
text: "There, do you see?" said Asa.
text: "Yes, we see," they said.
text: "Then I shall take your loads," said Asa. "And you must let my younger brother go."
text: So they let Munsarung go, and left their loads. "Carry them," said Asa, and Munsarung carried the whole lot home.