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 three - the Ram or village community
caption: the individual's relations with the kienga
caption: reactions to death of elder; funeral, graves and rituals of death
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: When the katsingmi dies, the event is announced to the village by the wailing of his female kin and the war-cries of his kinsmen, who arm themselves with spears and rush shouting and stabbing about the street, cursing and challenging the spirit which has consumed his soul and caused the death of the body. A party of young men from each kienga come to the house help to straighten and wash the body, dress it, and lay it out with a cloth over the face, and remain watching beside it until the funeral. As soon as possible, at once if the death takes place in the early morning, or at dawn next day if the death takes place in the later day or at night, one party of young men from the dead man's kienga go to the jungle to make a shallow wooden coffin, while a second party begin to dig the (76) grave in the street outside the dead man's house. Though the collection of weapons, cloths and other grave-furniture is the responsibility of the dead man's kin and heirs, the men of the kienga not infrequently do this also, performing almost all the duties necessary for a member's proper burial. Then the party return from the jungle with the coffin, a shallow dish of wood long enough to contain the body but only hollowed-out to a depth of an inch or two, the body is laid in it and secured to it by cloths wrapped round, and by bamboo ties. The body itself is covered by a cloth and either a shallow lid made to fit the coffin or a bamboo shield is tied over the body. The grave is a recess at the side of a pit six or seven feet deep and two or three feet wide dug in the village street a few feet in front of the house. Between two or three in the afternoon (even if the grave was ready earlier) the body is carried from the house by the men of the deceased's kienga, lowered into the pit and moved sideways into the recess, where it lies so that it would face away from the house on arising. Grave-goods of weapons and food are laid beside the body, the open side of the recess is walled up with slabs and pieces of stone, and the pit is filled in. During the filling, an old women pours rice-beer into the grave-shaft and the shaft is then filled right up. When this is finished the earth is shaped into a mound and stuck with sharpened bamboos. Each man attending the funeral catches hold of a bamboo stake, and says; "There will be rice in the fields; there will be no bad dreams." The bamboo stakes are then pulled out, broken, and thrown away. Finally, they set up a post with cross-arms (77) over the grave-shaft, hang by threads from the arms roughly- carved models in white wood of hornbill's tail-feathers, and surround the post with a rough fence and crude images, made of plantain-stems and stocks, representing wild pig. The post and fence are removed the next day or within a few days, and a low cage of sticks and bark string is set up to prevent animals fouling the grave-site. The period between the death and the following feast of Hga-ngi is observed as a time of mourning by the dead man's domestic family and his nearest adult kinsman, who may or may not be a member of the domestic family. In the dead man's house food is set out for his ghost at every meal. The domestic family wear no gala dress and take no part in dances or celebrations, and the nearest adult kinsman discards his ornaments, wears old and ragged clothing, and allows his hair to grow untrimmed until the final ceremonies. [33 [Record T86793]