The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

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

caption: Chapter Five. Heathens and Baptists
caption: tiger hunt at Merangkong
medium: books
ethnicgroup: Ao
location: Merangkong
person: Furer-Haimendorf
date: 6.1936-6.1937
text: (52) The village of Merangkong, with its three rows of houses, one on top of the other, presented on entirely regular front; seen at a distance it seemed like an enormous hotel looking over the valley. When still a mile or two from the village, we met a group of young men hurrying down the hills, with long bamboos over their shoulders. They told us excitedly that the whole village was out to ring a tiger, that the bamboos were to build the fence against which the tiger was to be driven. In a valley far below the path we could see crowds of men surrounding a patch of steep, sloping jungle; they were building a stockade on the lowest edge. There was so much noise and clamour that I doubted whether the tiger could really be in this piece of jungle, but the Merangkong boys allayed my doubts, and assured us that the tracks clearly led to it, but not out of it.
text: The spectacle of ringing a tiger was not to be missed. I hurried towards the village. I swallowed a few mouthfuls of food and hastily searched my luggage for my small revolver, the only fire-arm I had with me, since I had left my gun at Wakching. I had no illusions as to how much harm my revolver could do to a tiger, but perhaps I had a naive idea, and not a very altruistic one, that, if the worst came to the worst, I could with a few shots divert the tiger from myself to the men alongside, who would be armed at any rate with shields and spears. After all, it was their tiger.
text: On my way to the jungle I passed groups of boys cutting bamboos and carrying them down to the fence. The piece of jungle to be ringed was surrounded by much activity, and at the lower end, where a small brook trickled through a ravine, a high bamboo stockade had been erected. Funnel-shaped, its wings ran up the slope into the jungle. Young men climbed about on this stockade, strengthening, stiffening, and tying together the individual bamboos, while the warriors of the village, armed with spears and shields, had ranged themselves behind the two wings. The old men and the boys ringed in the upper part of the jungle. Tigers apparently always attack downhill. None of the men had firearms; spears, dao, and high, plaited shields were their only weapons. Some of the older men had given themselves a most terror-inspiring look by wearing head-dresses of bear's skin and various other hunting trophies. Cheek-straps set with tiger claws showed that they had already bagged many a tiger.
text: (53) When the stockade was ready, I climbed the swaying structure and found myself about eighteen feet above the ground; under my weight the bamboos bent towards the centre of the ring in a most frightening way. The tiger was to be driven against the stockade and speared, or at least I hoped so, practically beneath me, by the men ranged up behind the fence. With one hand I grasped an unsteady bamboo, with the other I gripped my camera, fitted with a telescopic lense. I wanted a close-up of the tiger actually being killed by the Aos.
text: The ringing of the tiger began, and with every minute the tension grew, as the boys and old men came yelling down the slope. Ferociously they cut down the jungle, and we expected any moment to see the tiger fleeing before the noise and the breaking branches towards the stockade. The warriors stiffened and waited, spears poised. Endless minutes passed -- but no tiger came. My perch on the bamboo stockade was not exactly comfortable. Gradually it became evident that there was no tiger in this thicket. He must have saved himself long before that empty piece of jungle had been ringed. All that trouble ! And all those precious bamboos wasted !
text: In every civilized country the cheated hunters would have vented their disappointment with loud words of anger, and each would have reproached the other for the failure. It must have been some one's idea, after all, that the tiger, having killed a cow, was licking his chops in that particular piece of jungle, and that some one was therefore responsible for a whole day's lost labour. But it did not occur to the Nagas to reproach each other. They did the only possible thing under such circumstances: they laughed heartily over their own misfortune.
text: "Isn't it funny, Sahib? We all went out with spears and shields, and now there is no tiger ! Well, today he was more clever than we, but another time we will get him, all the same !"
text: The rice-beer held in readiness to celebrate the killing of a tiger tasted just as good as consolation for an unsuccessful hunt, and after hours on that bamboo stockade in the blazing sun it was pleasant to rest in one of the airy Ao houses. Several men invited me to have a drink with them, and, anxious not to offend, I made at first a sober, and later a slightly tottering, round of the village. Nowhere will you find better rice-beer than in Merangkong; it is clear and sweet and frothy, like champagne.