The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

typescript 'Village Organization Among the Central Nzemi Nagas', M.A. thesis by Ursula Betts

caption: chapter two - the village
caption: the kuloa
caption: furniture and fittings of a morung
medium: theses
ethnicgroup: Nzemi
person: Betts/ U.V.
date: 1950
refnum: M.A. thesis, University College, London
note: footnotes indicated by boxes within square brackets
text: In a front corner of the hall and directly inside one of the two windows is the young men's dressing-room. A stone-paved drain serves as a urinal; combs [12 [Record T86716]
text: Half-way down the hall are two large open fireplaces, one on either side. They are surrounded by broad wooden benches made up of adzed planks laid on stout supports; these benches can easily be dismantled and removed when the space is needed for a dance. Along the side-walls are other benches, used, like the first- mentioned, as beds by the young men, and these wall-benches may be either plain planks or of the much rarer type known as nzun- ze. The nzun-ze, with its legs and foot-rail is carved from a single tree-trunk and is often of great size. A specimen at Khangnam in 1943 was 19 feet 7 inches long, 3 feet 3 inches wide and 2 feet 7 inches high. The labour involved is enormous, for all the redundant wood below the top between the legs and among the struts of elaborate foot-rail must be adzed away by hand, and the wood is always the hardest and most enduring obtainable. A nzun-ze is made during the cold weather, after the harvest and before the clearing of jungle on the next year's fields, a time of year when there is no work in the cultivation and the men have leisure for other tasks. The rough section from the felled tree is hauled to the village and the bench is carved there with the ordinary small Nzemi axes and adzes. Broken dao-blades are used as spokeshaves on the foot-rail and struts. Because of the labour required nzun-ze are uncommon, although the presence of one in a hangseoki adds prestige. In 1946 there were two in Khangnam, where a third was planned, one in Nenglo, and a poor specimen in Hangrum. The nzun-ze is said to have been used for a now almost forgotten test of courage. Once such a test had been (27) decided upon, the hangseoki was prepared by scattering cut-up plantain- stems under the nzun-ze. Young men's dark blue kilts edged with yellow orchid-skin tufts were placed on it so that the fringes hung down level with the openings in the foot-rail. A ceremony, the details of which have been forgotten, was then performed and the hangseoki vacated at nightfall in preparation for the test. Each young man taking the test had to enter the building alone in the dark and crawl along the nzun-ze from end to end through its pierced legs, drawing a length of cord after him. By virtue of the earlier ceremony the plantain-stems over which the youth crawled had become the hacked and clammy bodies of dead men, while the kilts with their orchid-skin fringes gleaming through the apertures in the foot-rail, were severed heads with shining teeth. If the young man's courage failed, and he fled before reaching the end, the abandoned cord betrayed him.
text: Over each fireplace a square piece of interlaced split bamboo is hung to prevent sparks reaching the thatch. In the back part of the hall saplings are laid between the cross-beam and the partition wall, and on them are stacked baskets, long bundles of split bamboo for use as torches, ropes for securing cattle, shields, fishtraps and drums. [13 [Record T86717]