The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

published - 'Notes on the Wild Tribes Inhabiting the So-Called Naga Hills, on our North-East Frontier of India', by Col. R.G. Woodthorpe, 1881

caption: protecting a village by sacrificing a puppy; omens; ceremony
medium: notes
person: Woodthorpe/ R.G.
date: 1881
refnum: given at a meeting of the Anthropological Institute, 1881
text: On another occasion we had gone about three miles from a village which had received us as we passed in an apparently friendly spirit, when our rear guard was suddenly attacked by a large number of Nagas who had come up from the village through the jungly ravines behind us. I had on looking back seen them descending from the village, but as they had concealed their arms under their clothes, I thought they were going into their fields. They had probably hoped (59) to have cut off the coolies, but the latter were going well, and the Nagas having a steep climb through the tangled grass, only managed to come up with the rear guard. To have allowed this to pass would have been to raise the whole country against us, so ( as I had succeeded to the chief political charge on Captain Butler's death, and had the advantage of his experience and example on several similar occasions) I requested Colonel Tulloch, who commanded my escort, to leave a large guard with our coolies to form camp in a convenient spot, while we pursued the Nagas back to their village. As they had no firearms we only took 20 men with us, and the Nagas making a very slight show of resistance when they found the tables turned on them, we were soon in possession of their village. At various parts of the road, outside their gates, where we had noticed some Nagas very busy as soon as they saw we were making for the village, we found portions of a puppy which had been killed, cut up, and buried. This ceremony was supposed to give them immunity from our bullets, and secure their village from destruction. Among other means I may mention that one is to throttle a fowl, and observe how its legs lie when dead; if the right lies over the left, the omen is favourable, and the reverse if otherwise. Certain birds' songs when heard on the right of a path are lucky; unlucky when heard on the left of the path. They have several ways of taking an oath. The commonest and most sacred is for the two parties to the oath to lay hold of a dog or fowl, one by its head the other by its tail or feet, whilst the animal or bird is cut in two with a dao, emblematic of the perjurer's fate. A ceremony of submission after defeat, and offer of peace, is to take a handful of earth and grass, and after placing it on the head to put it on the edge of a dao, and chew it between the lips, " one of the most literal and disagreeable renderings of the metaphorical term "eating dirt" ".