The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

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

caption: Chapter Eight. The Harvest
caption: food shortages
caption: Nagas as agriculturalists
medium: books
person: Tsampio
ethnicgroup: Konyak
location: Wakching
person: Furer-Haimendorf
date: 6.1936-6.1937
text: (73) "No eggs, Sahib," were the sombre words Tsampio chose for greeting as he brought me my breakfast one morning. I think he rather enjoyed informing me, with furrowed forehead and sorrowful voice, of the various deficiencies of our larder. The lack of vegetables was certainly unpleasant, but no eggs -- that was a much more serious obstacle in the way of Tsampio's culinary efforts. Yet I could not feel completely innocent of the sudden dearth of chickens, and consequently of eggs. Day after day we had bought and eaten two or three chickens, and the village was unaccustomed to such demands. Not that I had such an enormous appetite, but a Wakching chicken is thinner and bonier than a partridge in spring, and is scarcely enough even for one meal. Indeed, the Wakching chickens are famous all over the hills for their smallness, and even the Aos describe a miserably thin person as a "Wakching chicken."
text: However this may be, the birth rate among the chickens of Wakching was not high enough to sustain the heavy toll that my incessant demands imposed on them -- and the many sacrifices for the souls of the innumerable victims of the recent dysentery epidemic had accelerated the decimation of their ranks. Later on, in the winter, my Wakching friends sent for chickens and eggs to all the neighbouring villages, and even across the border into the tribal area. It was only unfortunate that the Konyak idea as to the freshness of eggs did not quite coincide with mine. And very understandably so, for they use them only as offerings to the gods, who are certainly not particular as to the flavour, while my last resort was scrambled eggs -- kuni rumble tumble as Tsampio called them -- with the largest possible dose of pepper. But during these days of September my friends in Wakching had no time to provide me with eggs, for the harvest had begun, and all their thoughts were entirely wrapped up in this most important of tasks.
text: Popular opinion was inclined to imagine the Nagas as a fierce (74) and warlike people, continuously occupied with head-hunting, human sacrifice, and other exciting customs. But this picture drawn by journalists who spent perhaps a week in the Naga Hills had very little in common with reality. The Naga is first and foremost an agriculturist. Nine-tenths of his thoughts and his life are devoted to his fields, and the things that mean most to him are the state of the crops, the weather at harvest time, and the number of rice-baskets in his granaries. Those who see him only in his village can neither really know him, nor understand the complicated social organization that attains its full expression in the daily work of the fields. And they will find it hard to realize the enormous amount of work accomplished by men, women, and children, at certain times of the year.