The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

book : 'Konyak Nagas' by Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf, (1969)

caption: Chapter Three. Phases of Life
caption: initiation into a Wakching morung; log-gongs; magic; rituals; headhunting symbolism; age groups
medium: books
person: Yonglong/ of Wakching
ethnicgroup: Konyak
location: Wakching Chi Totok
person: Furer-Haimendorf/ C.
date: 1969
refnum: with permission from Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York68:4
text: In Wakching this initiation ceremony was always performed in October, shortly after the end of the harvest, when people had time for the celebration of feasts. In the year of my stay in Wakching it was performed only by the people of the Thepong morung, for only in this morung were there sufficient boys of a suitable age, that is, between the ages of seven and ten.
text: Six days after the new moon the boys and girls of the Thepong went to the jungle to collect wild herbs and the soft shoots of wild banana plants, for vegetables from the jungle, and not those which were cultivated, were the proper food for the initiation feast. The next day Yonglong, the descendent of the village founder and priest '(niengba)' of the Oukheang morung, went to the houses of the six Thepong boys who were to be initiated. In each of the houses he was entertained with rice and rice beer, and then a sacrificial animal, a pig by rich and a chicken by poorer families, was killed in front of the house. The killing was done by the oldest man of the boy's clan, and the same man blessed the boys and prayed for their welfare.
text: Little else happened on that day, but the boys as well as the girls of the families, celebrating the initiation of their sons, alternated in beating the giant wooden gong of the morung.
text: On the morning of the next day, the parents of the candidates entertained all the members of their clan with large quantities of food and rice beer. As a contribution toward the expense of the feast, every guest brought one bamboo vessel filled with husked rice. All that morning the clan sisters of the candidates beat the morung gong. The candidates were taken to the forest by the older boys of the morung and instructed in the making of new mallets for the gong. As soon as they returned to the village, they rushed to the gong house and beat the gong with the newly carved mallets. In the meantime the lower jaws of the sacrificial pigs had been cleaned and fastened between split bamboos. The descendant of the village founder then "fed" the pig's jaws with a mixture of rice and ashes, and prayed that the men of Chi and Totok, both powerful neighbors of Wakching, should come and eat.
text: The intention of this magical formula was not to induce men of these villages to come as guests to Wakching, but to effect the capture of their heads, which would then be "fed" with rice as the pig's jaws had been fed with rice by Yonglong.
text: Next Yonglong killed a small chicken and let the blood drip on the pig's jaws, and after this the candidates were instructed how to feed the jawbones with rice and ashes. After this they rushed off shouting and swinging small, pointed bamboo sticks. They ran down the steep path near their morung and then threw their miniature "spears" at a large tree near the village spring. Then they returned to the village and, assisted by a few older boys, beat the wooden gong in the rhythm used for announcing the bringing in of a captured enemy's head.
text: That night the newly initiated boys slept in the morung for the first time. They were not allowed to talk to their parents, and an unmarried young man of the morung took care of them. He gave them the food brought by their relatives and then shut them into one of the sleeping compartments.
text: The whole ceremonial of this initiation, with the allusion to the taking of heads, the symbolic spearing of a tree, and the beating of the morung gong in the head-taking rhythm, suggests that the rites were intended as a symbolic introduction to war and head-hunting. In Wakching, where the boys were initiated at an early age, this appears somewhat premature, but in most of the Thendu villages a boy's entry into the morung took place at the age of about sixteen. In these villages the initiation rites were more elaborate and included sham fights between the candidates. There, the youths went shortly after the ceremony on a raid to earn their face tattoo. Such ceremonial raids were usually innocuous affairs; the entering of hostile land, which involved, of course, a certain risk, was considered sufficient for the purpose.
text: It is most likely that in Wakching too the ritual connected with a boy's admission to the morung was originally a real initiation into the life of a warrior. Yet, far from being a mere survival of more warlike times, it continued to mark the entrance of a boy into the economic life of the morung community. All those who had entered the morung at the same time constituted an age group the members of which cooperated in many tasks. The boys of such an age group did not address each other by name nor by the appropriate kinship term, but with the special term 'shimba,' The newly initiated boys had to perform certain services for the senior boys, such as fetching water and wood. Those who were slack in this fagging risked being beaten, but in practice it was rare for a smaller boy to be punished by his seniors.