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: dragging of stone slabs to commemorate the dead; size of slab reflects status
medium: theses
ethnicgroup: Nzemi
location: Laisong
person: Betts/ U.V.
date: 1950
refnum: M.A. thesis, University College, London
note: footnotes indicated by boxes within square brackets
text: There are two classes of monument in a Central Nzemi village: those inside and those outside the settlement. Those in the former class are all of the funerary character. The dead are buried in the street outside their houses. The graves of women are not marked by any permanent memorial. Those of men are marked either by a stone slab (harreo-tsukhang) or, rather more rarely, by a circular platform of dry stone-walling.
text: Immediately before the winter feast of Hga-ngi following the death, when the final ceremony of separating the year's dead from the living is carried out, the stone slabs are either dragged on a sled or carried in a scaffold or framework by a number of men and are brought to the village. The slabs vary in size: (31) families of small means cannot provide the food and drink necessary to entertain the pullers of a large slab, and must be content with a stone which can be moved by only a few men. The well-to-do can afford large slabs, such as one at Laisong which measured 6 feet long, 5 feet wide and 9 inches thick, and required between 80 and 90 men to move it. When the slab has been brought to the grave, a foundation of smaller stones set on edge is sunk in the soft earth filling the grave-shaft and the large slab is laid on these. Earth is then heaped over it until only a small patch in the centre of the stone is exposed. In the course of years this loose soil washes away and the slab appears as a table-stone, or more commonly as a broad step projecting from the sloping village street. On old sites where erosion has been extreme ancient gravestones and their supports stand above ground-level as 'dolmens'.
text: The hekwoa, or circular platform of dry stone masonry, is from 5 to 7 feet in diameter and 3 to 4 feet high. It is sometimes set up over the grave-shaft itself instead of the more usual slab, but is quite as often built as a cenotaph in a conspicuous place outside the village gate. The ordinary graveslab is brought in and set up by the men of the dean man's own kienga, or, if the man was of importance and the stone is a large one, by two kienga combined. But the hekwoa may be set up by the dead man's own kienga, by both the kienga of the village, by the men of one or more kienga in another village where the dead man had friendships or ties of kinship or (32) marriage, or by a combined body of men drawn from the kienga of both villages. If the work is done by men from another village the dead man's fellow-villagers must contribute food for them, but the main burden of hospitality falls on the dead man's heirs and nearest kin.