The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

book : Return to the Naked Nagas (1939;1976)

caption: Chapter One. The Naga Hills
caption: description of a death and funeral at Chakhabama
medium: books
ethnicgroup: Angami
location: Chakhabama
person: Furer-Haimendorf
date: 6.1936-6.1937
text: Chakhabama consisted only of a few small houses near the bungalow. But here there was great excitement. The keeper of the bungalow, an Angami from Kohima, had died that morning of dysentery after a short illness. His relations arrived one after the other, and a grave had already been dug on the slope near the path. Was it an evil omen that a funeral should be the first Naga ceremony I was to witness?
text: Loud wailing and crying came from the house of the dead, and the shrill, long-drawn-out screams of the widow filled the air and mingled with the dreary lamentations of the other relations. Some men cut up the flesh of a cow, while from time to time others fired off shots from old muzzle-loaders to scare away the evil spirits. Then a good friend of the dead man, with tears streaming down his face, ran out of the house; he jumped madly about, screaming challenges to the spirits who had caused the death to come and fight. Finally the corpse was carried out wrapped in a coloured (8) cloth. The widow, a slim young woman, wailed loudly and, beating the ground with a cloth, cursed it. Her hair was dishevelled and the cloth slipping from her shoulder left her breasts free. The other mourners, covered with grey and white cloths, moved in slow procession towards the grave. After the burial followed the distribution of the meat; tempers cooled down, and even the widow tidied her hair and quietly accepted her share. Again and again the mourners put the gourds of rice-beer to their lips, but as soon as they had all received their shares of meat, they returned to their villages.