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 twelve. Symphony on Two Floors
caption: Namkia's exploits
medium: books
person: Namkia
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: At Amingaon Namkia made a friend. As we waited for the train to start, I saw him standing in the doorway of the servants' compartment in all his glory of scarlet blanket, (94) golden-yellow necklaces, black kilt and well-oiled cane knee rings. In front of him was a growing crowd whose front rank was composed of assorted vendors; gaping spectators formed the rest. In the space which remained in front of the carriage paraded a little brown terrier of a sepoy, belonging, apparently, to some military police detachment posted at the station. Curious, I strolled past, and heard the sepoy answering the crowd's questions. Pride and delight were in his very strut, in the tilt of his hat; in his excitement he raised his voice, so that one heard his answers but not what the onlookers asked.
text: " Yes, he is an important person. He is of my own caste. He, too, is a Naga. We may eat from the same dish. Seller ! Bring some soda-water for my Naga brother ! Oh, there ! - bring some cigarettes ! "
text: Both vendors jumped to it, and passed their wares up, with blandishments, to Namkia.
text: " Nothing is too good. I will pay all ! " The little man swung suddenly round on Namkia. " O my brother ! Take, please, some cigarettes as a present from me ! It is so very long since I saw another Naga; and it has made me so happy ! "
text: Namkia, the old sinner - what he must have been as a buck ! - posed there, so statuesque and conscious of himself, in the narrow doorway; the heavy scarlet drapery falling from his bare shoulders; under the bare lights and the black, barren, girdered roof, he was a magnificently barbaric figure. Europeans were stopping to look now, at the back of the crowd. And how Namkia enjoyed it; and how, without catching my eye openly, knew that I knew he did, and enjoyed that, with his own particular humour, a puckish savouring of his own misdeeds. With polite reluctance he took a packet of cigarettes from the vendor, chose and lit one, and said, the crowd hanging on his words :
text: " Yes, my brother, we are both Nagas. I thank you for your presents. Though you are an Ao and I am a Zemi, yet we are both of the same caste."
text: (95) The train gave a shrill shriek and jerked forward and I fled for my carriage.
text: This encounter not merely raised his morale, but boosted it to well above normal level. I had to wait till Calcutta, though, to hear his subsequent adventures. These began after the change of trains at Parbatipur. There was then no servants' compartment, and he found himself lodged, as one of sixty or so, in a crowded third-class carriage. Such an exceptional figure could only arouse curiosity. Courteous, like all Zemi, he answered fully at first and most politely. But with a few the thirst for information overbore good manners. Newcomers bombarded him with the same old questions. Earlier inquirers, emboldened by his mild manner, pushed matters to prodding point - to fingering, to demands, even, for scraps of his dress as souvenirs; and his patience began to shrink. At last some innocent crowned it all by asking, in a hushed voice, whether Nagas were really, as the plainsmen all believed them to be, cannibals. Namkia took a deep breath.
text: " Oh, yes ! " he said, and resettled himself in the slight space which appeared, by magic, it seemed, on the crowded bench. " I couldn't tell you the number of times I've tasted human flesh."
text: There was a sharp backward movement from his vicinity.
text: He shifted a little to give himself elbow-room, and went on with an air of simple veracity :
text: " In the last famine, my wife and I decided we should have to eat one of the children.
text: " We couldn't make up our minds (we had four, you know) whether to eat the eldest, who was about ten, because there would be more meat on him and we could smoke it down, or whether to take the youngest, which was quite a baby, because we shouldn't miss it so much, and we could easily have another. We argued for hours.
text: " I decided at last against killing the eldest. He'd been such a trouble to rear. Unfortunately, my wife was fond of (96) the baby. You never heard such a scene - eventually, though, I insisted on killing it; and it really was extremely good, most tender - boiled, with chillies. But my wife, poor woman, was most upset. She cried the whole time and couldn't touch a mouthful."
text: By this time, not only was the bench on which Namkia sat empty, but most of the passengers had congregated, with starting eyes, on the far side and at the opposite ends of the carriage. With a final look round him and a benign smile, Namkia spread out his bedding and slept in comfort, at full length, all the way to Calcutta; and every time a fresh entrant approached him with a hint to move over, the rest of the carriage said, as one : " Look out ! Man-eater ! " and Namkia turned slowly over and murmured : " Now the last time I tasted human flesh - - -" He told me the story with immense delight as soon as we arrived.