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: the marital affairs of a Wakching family
medium: books
person: ShoubaShankokShongnaShiknaDzingen
ethnicgroup: Konyak
location: Wakching
person: Furer-Haimendorf/ C.
date: 1969
refnum: with permission from Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York85:1
text: While the exogamy of wards and clans channelled marriage into a set pattern of affinal relationships, there remained within this over-all framework considerable latitude for individual choice and the gratification of emotional urges. The following account of the marital complications experienced by two generations of a wealthy Wakching family illustrates both the socially accepted norms and the ways in which individuals contrived to manipulate and at times circumvent them in order to attain their own ends.
text: A few months before my arrival in Wakching, Shouba, the richest and most influential man of the village had died, and it was his eldest son, Shankok, who became my closest friend among the Konyaks. Shouba belonged to the Khoknok clan of the Thepong morung, and was thus of commoner status. His parents had not been wealthy, but by unrelenting work and skill in trade he had gradually achieved great prosperity. Trade was then very lucrative, because the people of Wakching had begun to purchase manufactured goods in the markets of the plains, and bartered them at great profit to the Konyaks of the interior hills, who at that time were not yet in the habit of traveling far from the security of their villages. Shouba employed the profits from these trade transactions in the purchase of land, and when he died, his holdings were the largest in Wakching.
text: Shouba's first marriage was childless, and as he was not greatly attached to his wife, he began a love affair with Shongna of Meta clan and Balang ward. Shongna was already married to a man of Ang ward, but she was still living in her parents' house. When she became pregnant, she knew that her child was Shouba's, but according to custom, she had to enter her legal husband's house as soon as she had delivered the child. For a short time she and her infant son, Shankok, lived there, and Shankok was, consequently considered a member of the Ang ward, but Shouba, who was a man of strong character, said to himself, "Shall my son grow up as the child of another man? That must not be." As a commoner, he could not have two wives, and so he divorced his first wife and that night took Shongna and Shankok to his house. To both his first wife and to Shongna's husband he paid large compensations, to the latter twenty brass plates. According to local custom, he had to pull down his old house and build a new one in which to start his new life with Shongna. Subsequently, she bore him four more sons and two daughters. When I knew Shongna she was a dignified woman of comparatively youthful appearance. Shankok stood very much in awe of her, and though nominally he was the head of the family and organized the work of cultivation, it was his mother who ruled in the house.
text: Shouba's unusual action shows that although in general Konyaks recognized only social paternity, sentiment resulting from biological paternity could on occasion prove a powerful motivation. It would seem that it was this sentiment and not primarily love for Shongna which induced Shouba to abduct her from her husband. Had his affection to Shongna been the main motive, it would have been simpler to compensate her husband and marry her before the birth of her child, and this course would have been much more in accord with usual practice.
text: Although Shouba had himself followed sentiment, he showed little understanding for the likes and dislikes of his son Shankok. He married his son at an early age to the daughter of one of his friends, a rich man of the Bala morung. The girl, whose name was also Shongna, was at that time adult, and her father hesitated to give his consent to the marriage, fearing that Shankok might want to marry a younger girl when he grew up, but Shouba assured him that as long as he lived he would never permit Shankok to divorce Shongna. Moreover, he contracted on Shankok's behalf to pay a very high compensation in the event of divorce. So the wedding ceremony was concluded, but Shankok was much too young to consummate the marriage. As was customary in such cases, Shongna had a love affair with another man of the Thepong morung, and even when after the birth of a child she entered her husband's house, she continued this connection and gave birth to a second child fathered by her lover.
text: When at last Shankok was old enough to begin his married life with Shongna, he refused to have anything to do with her. He could not openly rebel against his strong-willed father, in whose house both he and his wife lived, but he decided to boycott the unwanted marriage. Not only did he make no attempt to consummate the union, but he ignored his wife and led the life of a bachelor. When Shankok was about thirty his father died, and although he became head of the household, his attitude to Shongna remained unchanged; he continued to sleep in the morung or found bedfellows among the young girls.
text: At the time of my arrival in Wakching Shankok was having a very happy love affair with Shikna, a girl of the Balang ward. Shikna was married to Dzingen of Ang ward, but she had not yet taken up her marital life. She and Shankok were very much in love and spent every night together in a granary. From previous girlfriends Shankok already had two children, both of whom were recognized as the children of their mothers' legitimate husbands and lived in the latters' houses. Unfortunately for Shankok, Shikna soon became pregnant, and that meant that she would soon have to enter her husband's house, and thus be lost to Shankok. The thought of the impending separation greatly distressed him. He could have emulated his father's example, divorced his wife, and married Shikna, but his domineering mother opposed such a course and declared that she would not share the house with another daughter-in-law. Moreover, Shankok feared the exorbitant demands of Shongna's kinsmen, to whom he would have had to pay two large fields and ten brass plates if he divorced his wife, and he knew that Shikna's husband would also demand heavy compensation. Though he could easily have met all these demands, he could not face the public discussions and the reproach that he squandered the family's wealth for the sake of a woman. Though Shankok was well liked, his treatment of Shongna and her small daughter, whom, like her mother, he consistently ignored, had already aroused criticism. A man of stronger character might have braved his family's opposition as well as adverse public opinion, and ended the marriage which existed only in name, but Shankok lacked resolution and when, in May 1937, Shikna bore a son and had to enter her husband's house, Shankok was for many weeks in a state of deep depression. He spent sleepless nights in the morung and complained that never again would he find a girlfriend such as Shikna: "No other girl will ever understand me as she did. Whatever she said, I understood, and my words easily entered her mind; like father and son, like brothers we spoke to each other; what could I say to another girl?"
text: Such utterances show that in a love affair Konyaks sought not only sexual satisfaction; harmony and understanding between lovers were of as much importance as physical attraction. Shikna was not particularly pretty, and I knew a girl of exceptional beauty whom Shankok had abandoned when he began to court Shikna.
text: Subsequently, he often complained that several children of his were growing up in other men's houses, while the only surviving child of his wife, who lived in his house as his daughter, was the child of another man.