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: One day Asa went to buy a knife and when he was coming back with it, and tiger sprang out of the jungle at him.
text: "Who's that?" cried Asa. "I'm afraid of Tiu!"
text: "Who's Tiu?" asked the tiger, alarmed.
text: "Oh, if it says 'Tiu' at you, you immediately fall down dead," said Asa.
text: "Then I'm afraid of it, too," said the tiger. "Let us be friends and go along together. What is your name?"
text: "My name is Sevu," said Asa, taking his name from his knife.
text: The tiger built a house near Sevu's, and Sevu often set snares and caught jungle-fowl and other birds. The tiger's children said to the tiger: "Sevu's children always have birds to play with, and we have none."
text: "I'll bring you Sevu's leg to play with tomorrow," said the tiger.
text: He arranged with two large black snakes [probably cobras] to trap Sevu, and they lay up above the doorway and prepared to strike Sevu as he came in. When he saw them he wrapped his head up in his cloth and ran into the house so quickly that they missed him, and once inside, he put some stones into a chunga and shook it so that they rattled, saying as he did so: "What a pity there are no snakes! I have any number of rats in this chunga!" Hearing this, the snakes cried out: "We're here!" "Come quickly, quickly!" cried Sevu, and the two snakes hurried into the house and dived into the chunga in search of the supposed rats. Once they were in, he stopped up the mouth and blew smoke in till they cried for mercy and promised not to harm him.
text: One day when Sevu was making wall-matting the tiger came along and sat on it. Sevu wove the tiger's fur into the matting, and then went into the house and shouted: "Tiu!" Remembering what he had said when they first met, the tiger leapt up and ran for his life, dragging the matting with him. Sevu smeared the dhan-pestle with ntsang [a strong-smelling plant] and threw it after the tiger, hitting him.
text: "There!" he shouted. "I've hit you with my spear, and the wound will suppurate and smell!" The tiger wiped the place with his paw and sniffed, and sure enough there was a smell.
text: "Ah, Sevu's right," he said. "It smells, and I shall die."
text: He ran so hard that the pull of the matting took of most of his skin, and feeling very sore and angry, he made up his mind to eat Sevu, and asked him where he was going the next day.
text: "I shall go up," said Sevu, and so the tiger went that way, but Sevu went down instead.
text: The next day the tiger asked again: "Sevu, where are you going tomorrow?"
text: "I shall go down," said Sevu. The tiger thought to himself: "He won't go down as he says, he'll go up," and so he went up; and Sevu went up as well. After a while they met, but Sevu saw the tiger first and at once started cutting cane and creepers, grunting away to himself as he worked. The tiger came up and asked: "What are you doing?"
text: "How ignorant you are!" said Sevu. "Don't you know that the earth and sky are going to be reversed, with the sky underneath and the earth on top? I'm going to tie myself to a tree, and I'm cutting creepers to do it with."
text: "Tie me up too!" cried the tiger in great alarm.
text: "How can I?" exclaimed Sevu. "I can't even save my own wife and family. How can I spare time to save you?"
text: "Oh, please, please, help me!" said the tiger. "Be kind, please, tie me to a tree too!"
text: Sevu at last agreed, and said: "Run up against a big tree as hard as you can, and see whether it shakes." The tiger ran against a tree, but it shook,and Sevu said: "That's no good." So the tiger ran against another still bigger, and that didn't shake, so Sevu made the tiger stand up against it and tied him to the tree with the creepers as securely as he possibly could. Then he went up the hill and shouted at the top of his voice: "The one who ate your parents and grandparents is tied up here! Come, everybody, and beat him!" So everybody came and beat the tiger. Last of all came the leopard-cat, and the tiger said: "We two are alike. Don't beat me, but let me go, and we two will be friends."
text: The leopard-cat loosened the creepers a little and the tiger gave a shake.
text: "What are you doing?" said the leopard-cat.
text: "Oh, the ropes were tight, I'm just stretching," said the tiger.
text: The leopard-cat was scared nonetheless, and went off and made a path in the jungle and dug a hole in the ground and put a bone in it. Then he went back and went on loosening the ropes, and with each one that fell the tiger was the more ready to spring out and seize him. When the last one was loosed the tiger made a leap at the leopard-cat, which ran for its life for the hole with the tiger hard after it, and just as it dived in the tiger caught it by the leg.
text: "Yah, you've caught hold of a root!" said the leopard-cat, and the tiger let go. The leopard-cat hurried further in that the tiger grabbed again and this time did catch a root.
text: "Oh, ah, alala!" cried the leopard-cat as if the tiger had hold of him; and the tiger gave a great yank and tore the root right out.
text: The tiger was sitting patiently watching the hole when along came a household cat, and the tiger asked it to go to the village and fetch fire for him. Off went the cat, very obligingly, but when it reached the house someone was toasting dried fish and the smell was so enticing that the cat sat there for hours and forgot all about the tiger, and when at last it came back with the fire, the tiger was angry and struck at the cat with his paw. Off ran the cat with the tiger in pursuit, but he could not catch up, and at last gave up the chase and shouted after the cat: "Your body may have got away, but I'll have your faeces yet!" The cat heard this, and that is why the cat always buries its faeces so carefully.
text: The tiger went back to the leopard-cat's hole. The leopard-cat was sitting inside and crunching the bone it had put there.
text: "O leopard-cat, what are your eating?" asked the tiger.
text: "I'm hungry, so I'm eating my own leg," said the leopard-cat.
text: The tiger was very hungry himself by this time, so he bit his own leg, and it hurt.
text: "Bite hard, as hard as you can!" said the leopard-cat, when he heard the tiger yell with pain. "Then it doesn't hurt."
text: The tiger shut his eyes and bit his own leg as hard as he possibly could, and bit right through it, and so died.
text: The leopard-cat was still afraid to come out, and asked a grass- hopper which was passing if the tiger were dead or not. The grass-hopper went to look and took one of the tiger's teeth, and the pattern of it can be seen on his neck to this day.
text: "Yes, he's quite dead," he said. "Look, I've taken a tooth."
text: The leopard-cat still was not convinced, and asked a fly which came by. The fly went to look and came back and said: " "Oh, yes, he's quite dead; I laid an egg in his fundament and crawled right through to his mouth and laid an egg there." At this the leopard-cat was convinced and came out of his hole.