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: dance and feast at Laisong
medium: books
date: 11.3.1940
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: By dusk the village hummed. After dark the drums began to thud, first singly, then more and more, as the leaders gathered their teams together. Lights danced up and down the street; and team after team came into camp, their torches trailing in orange streamers against the blue night sky. The wide top of the spur had been levelled to form a floor some forty yards long. Round this were ranged the spectators, and the singers with cymbals and drums. Great bamboo torches ten or twelve feet long were brought down from the morungs and set at intervals round the field; some held high, (55) and flaring in the wind, and some flung down on the ground, where their glow lit bare, brown legs and the big eyes of squatting children.
text: Then more than a hundred dancers, bucks and girls, slipped out through the crowd and formed into line. The men massed on either side started a lilting, leisurely song in strophe and antistrophe. The drums and cymbals joined in; and the dancers began to sway, rocking from one foot to the other as they picked up the time. Then they were away, slowly at first, with a dipping, easy step. Hornbills' feathers were in their hair and in their hands, beating time, or shimmering in the red torchlight, which shone on the bucks' smooth-muscled backs, on the girls' bare shoulders, and on horned bracelets of polished brass on arms held out and up. Round and round they went, coiling, meeting, parting and winding, till the whole spur moved with a maze of human figures.
text: Now the time changed. Slowly, but inevitably, it quickened. Forward went the leaders in high, springy leaps, far off the ground and perfectly controlled. Behind them followed the long lines, uncoiling, and choir and drums were swaying and rocking to the tune. Faster, faster, lighter, higher, leaping feet and glinting armlets, a forest of hornbills' feathers glimmering in and out of the dark, rising and falling, rising and falling; it was one wild intoxication of sound, colour and movement. The deep thudding of the drums shook the ground underfoot and jarred the body. On and on, in and out, went skein within skein of dancers, springing, curving, turning in endless recombination under the sheen of the black-barred feathers and the glare of the torches. Dance followed dance; torches burned to stubs and were renewed and the bamboo-ash blew about the bare ground like tufts of grey hair. Stars rose over the far hills, climbed over us and dipped away, and still the wild music shook the spur, still the torches flickered in the night wind, and still the kaleidoscope of dancers melted, changed, and swung leaping on, on, on.