The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

book - 'Naga Path', by Ursula Graham Bower, published John Murray 1950

caption: Chapter four. Black Magic
caption: witchcraft at Jessami
medium: books
location: Jessami
date: 26.3.1939
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: Next morning I held a lone-hand dispensary which was well-attended. At eleven o'clock I was reading in peace, when the door burst open. There was a surge of men, and the hut was suddenly full with Abung, Luikai, Chinaorang, and the whole body of porters.
text: Never have I seen men in such a state of fright. Their eyes bulged. Nor was it easy - they were shaken to gibbering- point - to find out what was the matter. I got it at last from Abung.
text: There was something in the gateway - something put there to harm us. He kept insisting it was 'jadu' - black magic, that is, of the most unpleasant kind. I pushed past them and went out to the village gate.
text: The others halted in the hut veranda. Abung, as my lieutenant, paddled after me. A few yards from the gate he stopped and pointed; and there on the bank ahead, at the foot of the thin, tall hedge which formed the palisade, was a little bamboo basket.
text: It sat there, small and harmless. I walked up to it to have a closer look.
text: It wasn't even a basket, really - a fragile, handled container of the simplest kind. In it was a white egg; and laid on it, and tied to it with a scrap of thread, was a lint square which must have come from the morning's dispensary, for it was smeared with ointment. I straightened up, and found I was alone with the thing. Abung had fallen back. Inside the gate, but at a very respectful distance, was a crowd of Jessami men, who watched me in silence.
text: It was a nice dilemma. I knew nothing about Jessami's sickness ceremonies. For all I knew it was a piece of innocent magic. On the other hand, the silent crowd suggested - there was a stillness, a waiting tension - that it was nothing so simple. I went back to Abung and asked, but he was (34) positive - this was 'jadu.' I returned to the gate, then, and picked it up, and as I carried it back to the hut the porters retired before it as though it were an unexploded bomb.
text: As I stood there with it, not at all sure what to do next, I saw, suddenly, one of the headmen. Unaware that things were wrong, he was peering into the empty cookhouse and searching, in a bewildered way, for the servants who should have been sitting there. I called him over. He came, astonished. I showed him the basket, and said : " What's this?"
text: His eyes opened, his lips fell apart; he turned a dull yellow. He threw out his hands and took a step backward. If ever I saw consternation, it was then. He stood there, his mouth was trembling; he didn't speak.
text: '"Jadu,"' said Abung. The matter was clinched.
text: The porters all began talking at once. They squashed in a mob round the headman. The bolder spirits of the Jessami crowd came up; they stuck their heads over the porters' shoulders, the headman's, any gap that came handy, talked in whispers, and peered at the basket and egg. I was still holding it out to him; and he was staring at it as I should have looked at a severed head. I was tired of the thing. I forced it into his hand, keeping only the scrap of lint. Someone had been down to the dispensary to get that, with witchcraft in mind. It was the necessary physical connection, the link through which the curse could be directed. I burned it with ceremony, later.
text: For a second the headman held the basket. The crowd was still. Then, as if suddenly discovering it to be red-hot, he thrust it into the hands of a small boy next to him. The small boy bore it away at arm's length into the village; and more in sorrow than in anger I told the headman, through Abung, what I thought of it all, and withdrew with dignity into my hut. Through the cracks in its wall I presently saw the headman turn from the door with the others after him, and they followed him into the cookhouse in a gabbling flock. (35) I heard afterwards that he wept for shame. They had tried so hard to welcome us, to have everything right; and now this unknown witch !