The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

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

caption: the Siemi, a former civilization
caption: Chapter sixteen. The Lost Folk
caption: legend about the Siemi
medium: books
ethnicgroup: Kachari
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: Now for the Naga legend.
text: The Siemi were, it is said, an uncanny race - magicians, (227) " small and dark ". They lived in the forested hills; and, by a secret process involving the use of fire, made precious 'deo-moni,' the " spirit-beads ", from slender, carefully-cultivated 'gareo' bamboo.
text: One day, when the Siemi of a village near the present Guilong were making beads, the smoke of their fires poured up in such a volume, a smoky haze, that it was seen by the Kacharis in Maibong below. The King, his curiosity roused, sent men into the unknown hills to find out what was burning. When they came back with a group of captured Siemi, the King demanded who and what they were. They answered that they were a jungle-people; that they did not live by digging or cultivation, but that they made, and traded, the yellow beads, and from these derived a living. At this, the King insisted they tell him the process. The Siemi refused. The King, in a royal fury, then ordered a metal pot to be made red-hot. He had it set on the head of one of the prisoners, and kept it there till the man's skull burst. Then he turned to the others, and, on pain of a similar fate, again demanded the secret. But he could not daunt the Siemi. Each clamoured to be the first to suffer. And so, horribly, one after another, they died without revealing a word.
text: Then the King, determined to have the process, sent men out again and again to hunt down the jungle-folk. By every torture, by every horror he could devise, he tried, from each successive batch of prisoners, to drag the precious information. But his victims died infuriatingly dumb, and the few survivors fell back into the hills, concealing their settlements, hiding farther from the Kachari grasp, until at last there were no more; and the Nagas filled their place.
text: The Kacharis have their own version of the story. So far as I know, it does not mention the beads. The little people were a nuisance; that was all. And so they wiped them out. One can think of parallels. A handful, though, concealed themselves in a cave. From that they came out at night to raid and loot Kachari settlements, returning home before (128) daylight, like bats, to their lair. At last, however, the Kacharis tracked them down. They did not attempt to attack the cave, a deep, defensible tunnel. Instead, they cut great armfuls of scrub and brushwood, filled up the cave-mouth with it, and fired the whole. So the last of the jungle-people perished, suffocated, in their last retreat.