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 six. Introduction to the Zemi
caption: gathering of Zemi at Laisong; buffalo and mithan killed for a feast
medium: books
person: Masang
location: Laisong
date: 10.3.1940-11.3.1940
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: There was to be a mass gathering of the Zemi here, with a feast and dance at which they and I might meet one another. By the second day the headmen and their dance-teams were coming in, and I, for my part, was negotiating for a big bull mithan - the Naga domestic bison - for the feast. The Zemi have a genius for celebration, and dancing is a tribal art. Each village has its special numbers and its stars, and their merits are discussed as technically, and with much more practical knowledge than are those of ballerinas and companies by Western balletomanes. Touring companies of bucks and girls go round performing for fees which vary with the strength of the company and the distance travelled. The dancers get the cash and a free dinner, the villagers get a free (54) show; but the rich man who pays for the performance has to be content with the accruing honour. The Zemi have more methods of getting cash in exchange for " honour " than anyone else I know.
text: Never in the whole history of the Zemi, though, had there been such a gathering as this. The camp and the village swarmed with interpreters' red-fronted waistcoats, and the Jacob's-ladder street to the lower morung was speckled with the scarlet blankets of ascending and descending headmen. Men and boys in all stages of full dress, from the first sketch to the complete achievement, sat about outside the houses or wandered, like dogs at a fair, among our huts. The whole male population of Laisong itself had gone down to catch the mithan. An old bull and a mighty beast, he was resisting capture. A whole day had already been wasted on him; and still we could see him from the camp, an elephantine blob, moving a mile off in the open valley. About mid-morning Masang came up again, gasping and sweating, his hair full of burrs and his grin gone, and called down every man available. An hour later they all returned, triumphant, and the mithan was led at last to the sacrificial post before the lower morung. All was now ready. The bull and a buffalo were killed that afternoon with proper ceremony, and in an amazingly short time converted into hot, rich, chilli-filled stew; the feast began; and presently silence warmed into a roar of voices as rice-beer drinking began.