The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

published - extracts from 'Account of the valley of Munnipore and of the Hill Tribes' by Major W. McCulloch

caption: firing jungle to clear land for cultivation
medium: articles
ethnicgroup: Koupooee
person: McCulloch/ Major W.
date: 1858
refnum: from: Selections from the Records of the Government of India, No. 27 (Calcutta) 1859
text: The hill-man more especially lives by the sweat of his brow. The spot for cultivation being determined on, he must clear it of a jungle of ten years' growth; if the spot happens to be near to the village, he can return in the evening after a full days' work, but if at a great distance, as it often is, he must either give up work early to enable him to get back to his village by night-fall or working late remain there. Working, exposed to the full influence of the rays of the sun, thirst is soon induced which often, from there being no water near, must be endured. A bamboo jungle of the species called " Maubee " is to cut, compared with a dense tree jungle, easy, but still it is no light labour. After having been cut down, the jungle is allowed to dry, so that it may be fired in season, for it fired out of season, as sometimes through accidental conflagrations happens, the crop to be raised will most probably be deteriorated, or the land even be rendered unfit for it. Great damage has occurred to the hill-people from the carelessness of travellers on the Munnipore Road in lighting fires, and leaving them burning, in the neighbourhood of dry jungle. These fires communicating with the jungle have sometimes been the cause of the premature burning of the newly felled jungle not of one, but of many villages. A premature fire caused by a hill-man is visited upon him with severe punishment, and before a village sets fire to the jungle cut down on the spot about to be cultivated, it gives some days notice to the neigbouring villages of the day on which it means to do so. At the season of firing the jungle cut for cultivation, as all the low uncut jungle is comparatively dry, on setting fire to the former, the latter also ignites and the whole mountain becomes a sheet of fire. This to a person safe from it forms a most magnificent spectacle, but one of fear and the greatest danger to those exposed to it. If the felled jungle has been thoroughly dried, the whole is, with the exception of the larger trees, reduced to ashes. The soil for an inch or two is thoroughly burnt, and having (46) been scratched up with their little hoes, is mixed with the ashes, and becomes ready for the reception of seed, which is sown broad cast.