The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

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

caption: Chapter Four. Above the Clouds
caption: story of an Ang of Hangnyu
medium: books
ethnicgroup: Konyak
location: Pomau Sangnyu (Hangnyu)
person: Furer-Haimendorf
date: 6.1936-6.1937
text: It appears that twenty years ago the old Ang of Hangnyu died, and his two sons and his brother quarrelled over the succession. By right, his eldest son Auwang should have become Ang, but he was so young that his uncle hoped to supersede him. Time is not very important in Konyak villages, and the quarrel dragged on for some time, until the old men of Hangnyu, growing restless, sent a message to the powerful Ang of Chui, asking him to send one of his brothers as Ang to Hangnyu. In itself this would have been nothing unusual for just as the Balkan countries received their (40) dynasties from the other royal houses of Europe, so the Konyaks often "called" their Angs from other villages. But the Ang of Chui, realizing that he could only aggravate the situation, refused the offer : the ruling house of Hangnyu was not yet extinct, he said, and there still remained two pretenders to the throne. But the people Hangnyu, anxious to set their affairs in order, sent a message to the Ang of Pomau, who, not so wise as the Ang of Chui, sent his ambitious brother Kiwang to accept the throne of Hangnyu.
text: At first all went well with the village of Hangnyu and its Ang Kiwang; he succeeded in defeating the hostile village of Tang, and quite a number of heads were captured. But not many years had passed before misfortune followed misfortune. Kiwang's wife, of the chiefly house of Mon, died, and soon her only son followed her. And though Kiwang had numerous other children in the dark rooms of his long house, none of those sons could ever succeed him on the throne of Hangnyu, for their mothers were commoners, and the pure blood of the chiefs did not flow in their veins. Then several bad harvests shrunk the wealth of the village so much that Kiwang often found difficulty in providing the necessary number of buffaloes and pigs for the Spring Festival, and Tang, reversing the fortunes of war, attacked a party of Hangnyu people out fishing and captured no less than nine heads on a single day.
text: The villagers -- rather unjustly, I thought -- held Kiwang responsible for all these misfortunes, and the now grown-up sons of the old chief only further embarrassed his position. Day by day the resistance to his power grew; his orders were ignored, only scanty tribute was paid, and his fields were neglected by his unwilling subjects. Finally the chief's sons, confirming his disgrace, publicly and ostentatiously ate the right hind leg of a buffalo sacrificed at the rebuilding of a morung by right the share of the Ang.
text: Kiwang knew that his days in Hangnyu were numbered and he secretly sent messengers to his brother, the Ang of Pomau. But how could Ato, the mighty lord of Pomau, appreciate the prospect of Kiwang's resignation? Would it not mean a loss of prestige for his whole house? His advice was not to precipitate matters. For though he could not openly interfere, he would invite the arrogant young Angs to a feast in Pomau and murder them. The plot was betrayed, however, and only one of the young Angs, Lowang, accepted the invitation. He arrived with an enormous escort of (41) warriors, and they took great care never to let their weapons out of their hands. With icy politeness Lowang thanked Ato for his lavish feast and returned to Hangnyu, where he and his brother immediately dethroned and banished Kiwang.
text: But the story did not end here, for many followers and servants had come to Hangnyu with Kiwang. They had built houses and acquired fields in Hangnyu, and their sons and daughters had grown up and found mates in Hangnyu. Were they now to return landless to Pomau? No, they had become Hangnyu people, and Hangnyu people they wanted to remain. "Well, if you are Hangnyu men, why don't you fetch us a few heads from Pomau?" Mockingly the words had been said, but four of Kiwang's one-time followers took them all too seriously.
text: They crept into Pomau on a moonless night and cut off the heads of an unsuspecting sleeping couple. Unfortunately the deed was immediately discovered, and the Pomau warriors took up the pursuit of the raiders. Only one escaped, two were overtaken and put to death, and the fourth man, fleeing into the forest, climbed a tree, hoping to put his pursuers off the scent. In the morning the warriors found him. They surrounded the tree and held council.
text: But the case was a difficult one. Under cover of darkness, and ignorant of their identity, they had killed two murderers; but now the light of day revealed with whom they had to deal, and though the crime, violating the most sacred bonds of the village community, had to be punished, their hands were tied, tied by the strictest of all taboos, which forbids the shedding of a relative's blood. There was only one way to end the ghastly unprecedented situation: the Ang himself must intervene, for he stood above all taboos, and was so filled with magical power that nothing, not even the killing of a man of his own village, could harm him. So the old Ang Ato climbed a neighbouring tree, and, taking his muzzle-loader shot the offender. Auwang ascended the throne of his father, and still ruled in Hangnyu.